Rev. Cornelius Hanko

I was born on May 19, 2007. Exactly one hundred years before me, a great father of Reformed faith was brought into this world. His name is Cornelius Hanko. Not only do we share the same birthday, but we share the same belief in a God that is sovereign in all things. A God who uses mere men as an instrument to preach the gospel to people. Though not everyone is called to be a minister, this man certainly was. Cornelius lived first for the church and truly loved the Reformed faith, which he fought for valiantly.

Cornelius knew he was called to the gospel since childhood. He started his seminary training in 1925. Two years later, there was a desperate plea for preaching in Iowa. He and two other men were requested to travel there to take care of the three churches in that forlorn area. They returned in June 1927 but a few short years later, Cornelius received the call to Hull, Iowa to which he accepted. When he arrived, there only remained twelve steadfast families who were still faithful in the truth. But during his five-year stay, the congregation grew to a strong twenty-five families and peace and harmony prevailed. Having no desire to leave, he was not quick in accepting the call to Oak Lawn, Illinois, but the fact that their congregation had been vacant for eight years and had not had a minister since its organization weighed heavily on him. In 1935, he and his family moved there.

Oak Lawn was a devoted congregation who loved the truth. In material things they were poor, but spiritually they were very rich. One time in July, there was a devastating drought leaving everyone’s fields bare. The cracked hard soil was so dry even the weeds were unable to begin to poke their heads from above the ground. Money was scarce. One of the members also had the sad experience that his wife was ill and hospitalized for some time. Rev. Hanko visited their home, and before he could say anything, the man remarked, “You know, Reverend, God is good. No matter what, God is good.” Think about that!

Rev. Hanko stayed in Oak Lawn for ten years before he accepted the call to Manhattan, Montana. Manhattan was a pleasant community surrounded by tall, majestic mountains. He and his family spent three years in this beautiful part of creation, and he later said that those three years were the happiest of his ministry. God used that time of peace and happiness to prepare him and his family for the troublesome and heartbreaking schism of 1953 in the Protestant Reformed churches.

Rev. Hanko and his family returned to Michigan in 1948. There he helped preach in First PRC, a very large congregation of over 500 families. There was a lot of work to be done in this busy congregation where there was a significant number of sick or shut-ins. He did not enjoy preaching to such a sizeable audience. Preaching after 1953 was easier.

In 1953, the denomination split over the question of conditional theology.  This type of theology teaches that there is something a person must accomplish first to be saved. It denies the sovereignty of God.  That was a sad and troubling time for everyone. Rev. Hanko paid with his own health. The amount of stress was causing him pain and he had a stomach ulcer that had been plaguing him for a few years. Once, he was scheduled to preach but his ulcer started to bleed, and he was later found unconscious on the ground from the loss of blood. This courageous man almost died for the sake of the church. And even after all that, he still could confess with Job, “But he knoweth the way I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)

We can learn a lot from this founding father of Reformed faith. Not only was he an excellent preacher, but he was also a father, brother, husband, son, close companion, and a caring and compassionate friend. He was the minister to six churches in the Midwest and lived through two major church splits while still holding firm to the truth. He was truly faithful and his great love and zeal for the gospel should inspire us to love God more. Rev. Hanko died peacefully surrounded by friends and family in 2005. His meekness, sympathy, and understanding are an example we should all strive to follow.


Archivist’s note:

This article was submitted to a Beacon Lights writing contest, with the prompt to briefly describe the life and service of a Reformed minister who had since retired or gone to glory. The article above was selected as one of the top 5 submissions in its category.