For many years, the writings of Rev. C. Hanko appeared in the pages—countless pages—of the Standard Bearer. Rev. Hanko was appoined as a regular writer in 1935, and retained that post until 1990. In the years before the split of 1953, he was one of but a handful of ministers who regularly employed his pen in order to aid Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff in the daunting task of filling the quota of twenty-four pages twice a month. He had an obvious love for the SB. It was, in fact, at Rev. Hanko’s suggestion that the SB introduced the system of assigned rubrics still followed today.
Rev. Hanko provided quality articles on a wide variety of topics, including missions. His style of writing was a reflection of his style of ministry—solid, irenic, clear, and, above all, uncompromisingly Reformed. Throughout the controversy in the PRC over the covenant in the 1940s and ’50s, Rev. Hanko maintained a steadfast witness to the truth of God’s unconditional covenant of grace.
If we had to choose one of his articles from past issues of the Standard Bearer, we would have had a very difficult time picking one that would accurately reflect both his strengths and his major contributions to the cause of the truth. So we did not attempt that. However, we decided to print excerpts of one of his last public speeches, an informal address at the Eastern Men’s and Ladies’ League in September of 1998. The speech highlights another of God’s gifts to this man—practical, godly wisdom.
The years after the children are grown can be the best years of your life, especially from a spiritual point of view. That’s why I’d like to talk about that with you tonight. I want to chat a little bit about family devotions when you are merely with the two of you. And then I want to talk a little about life together in the declining years of your earthly pilgrimage.
We look first, then, at family worship. The kids are all married. You’re there with the two of you.
There was a time, no doubt, when you had to do all in your power to get the family together at least once a day for a meal. Even in the evening, for dinner, one had to go here, and another had to go there. You know better than I do how those things go; it’s been so long since my family’s been out.
When I was still home as a lad, my Dad used to get us out of bed at 5:30/6:00 in the morning. We had to have family devotions. The whole family had to be around the breakfast table, early, because he had to go to work at 7 o’clock. And in the evening, well, then, of course, the whole family had to be together again.
That’s not so easy these days. We’re too busy. Oh, we bemoan that we’re so busy, always, even after the kids are all married—so busy. It’s so nice if you can have devotions together three times a day—that is, at mealtime— and then evening devotions before you go to rest. My daughter and I enjoy that.
But there are different ways in which to have family devotions. I remember one time when I was with a family in Hull. There was a big crowd around the table, and about halfway through the chapter, the father stopped and he went right down the row: “What was my last word?” Nobody knew the last word—except the children, because they had learned to listen for the last word.
But you know, even if you knew the last word, that would not be the important thing. You want to understand what you read. That’s why my daughter and I have a Bible dictionary handy during our devotions. And I have a concordance that I haul out. That’s pretty well worn now, but we do get it out sometimes. But especially a dictionary is very important. You can find out a lot of things in there—the difference between the burnt offering and a peace offering, between Levites and priests, and so on. It can all be so dry unless you take time to study.
I was in a home one time where the father read just a short passage, and then he stopped and asked questions about that passage. When the family thoroughly understood it (because so often one reads and doesn’t understand) then he would read another little passage, and he’d say, “Now what about that? What does that mean?” And he would offer an explanation.
Now, my daughter and I don’t do it that way at home, but many times my daughter stops me and says, “What does that mean?” Or I stop and say, “Did you notice that?” or “Do you know what that means?” In that way, the Bible begins to live for you.
And you should have the time now. When the children were all around the table, and they got restless, you couldn’t do that so well. But now when there is just the two of you, you have a golden opportunity to read the Word of God and make use of it. Know what you’re reading; understand what you’re reading. That’s worth so much!
The Presbyterians, you know, don’t have our custom. They don’t read the Bible and pray at meals. They have their devotions afterwards. They go to the living room. There the father reads a portion and talks about it. They sit comfortably in the living room, and they spend quite a bit of time. They sing, and they make a regular little worship service of it. I remember once when I was ready to leave such a home, the mother said to me, “Can we have devotions before you leave?” So we sat down, and with a few children in the living room we had devotions before I left. I thought, “Now that’s nice; that’s a nice way to part.”
I was in Isabel, South Dakota, years ago, and there was an elderly man who told me that when he was young he and his two brothers worked on the farm with their father. They would come in at noon for a warm meal, and they would read the Bible and pray, and then they’d go back to work.
Well, one day Dad asked, “You boys want to read the Bible?”
They looked at him, and they said, “Well, we always do.”
“No, no,” said the father, “I don’t mean that. Do you want to? Do you feel a need for it?”
They shrugged their shoulders: “Not particularly.”
“Well,” he said, “then we won’t read it.” So he prayed, and they went out to the field.
And the next meal the same thing: they didn’t read the Bible. That went on for a few days.
Then he said to the boys, “Do you feel like praying?”
Well, now of course they were a bit more alert, and they said, “Well, Dad, aren’t we supposed to?”
“Oh, is that the only reason?” he said.” “The only reason is because we’re supposed to? Then we’re not going to pray.” So they got up and went to work.
Two days later he said to the boys, “You know, we’re just like the heathen. We don’t pray anymore; we don’t read the Bible anymore.”
And the boys said, “Dad, we’d better. We need that.” They had learned that lesson.
And sometimes, I think, we all need to do that. We all need to learn the lesson that we don’t do devotions out of custom but because we need it, and we need it badly.
Well now, I suppose some of you think that I’m being a little bit too idealistic. It’s nice to sit and talk that way, but to live that way is different. But you know, that’s one of the advantages of the later years, the declining years of your life: that you can take time.
Life Together in the Declining Years
I would like to impress on you first of all that if you’re not yet retired, be sure that you make some plans for retirement. Oh, don’t say, “Then I’ll go golfing” or “Then I’ll go fishing.” You can’t golf every day. You can’t fish every day. And I’ve known many, many men who were totally miserable when they retired, and who drove their wives practically crazy because they had nothing to do. If you are retired, then be sure you fill the gap with something.
There are plenty of things to do. I tell you, there are so many elderly people who would be so glad if you dropped in and said hello, or even would call them up and ask, “How are you?” There are so many shut-ins and people that are not well in all these different places, in these rest homes and wherever the elderly people are. And you can’t imagine how great a blessing you receive yourself. I’ve often gone away, blushed with shame. I didn’t give them anything, but they gave me so much.
Well, if you think I’m a bit idealistic, I’m going to go a step farther. I’m going to remind you of what the apostle Paul says: “Whether you eat, or whether you drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” That’s quite a thing. It is not easy to learn. But the Bible says it. And, to quote a well-known expression of Rev. Herman Veldman, “You’d better believe it!” That is one thing we must learn: whether we eat, or whether we drink, or whatsoever we do, God first. Not me first, not my family first, not my children, not my grandchildren, not my job, or whatever. God. We believe in God-centered preaching on Sunday; we have to lead God-centered lives all week long.
A few years ago my son Herm and I were in Birmingham, Alabama. We were doing a little mission work there, and we were trying to find a certain Mr. Smith. We were told that he worked in the steel mills, so that if we wanted to meet him during the day, we would have to go to the steel mills. What comes to mind, of course, is big, burly, strapping fellows who work in the steel mills. Well, we got to the gate, and the guard at the gate asked, “What do you want?”
We said, “We would like to see Mr. Smith.”
“Oh,” he says, “You can find him in such and such a place. But I assure you,” he said, “that you won’t talk five minutes with that man before you’ll know that he’s a Christian.”
Now whether that was sarcasm or whether that was in all seriousness, I don’t know. But we said to each other, I wonder. I wonder.
Well, we found him in his pickup, and I think it was probably two or three minutes and it already became evident that he was certainly a Christian. Then he said to us, “Come on along to the office. We can talk better in the office.” So we went to the office, and there was a whole crew working there. He stepped in the door and he said, “Good morning, folks. God bless you.” And they all responded, “God bless you, Mr. Smith. Good morning.” You know, I was really amazed about that.
We visited in his home later, and I didn’t have a Bible handy. So his young daughter hands me her Bible. And do you know what? Throughout that whole Bible, texts were underscored, underlined very neatly, and with very neat marginal remarks. That was a young girl! I wondered how many of our children would have a Bible like that.
A couple of days later we went to another family for dinner and to spend the evening. When we drove up, we saw above the front door, “Jesus lives here.” Well, of course, you and I wouldn’t do that. But I thought, Now if that’s true, then it should be evident, too. We entered the house, and after awhile we sat down at the dinner table, and the father led the devotions. He prayed, “May our fellowship together and our conversation throughout the evening remain on a spiritual level.” What amazed me was that, not only did he keep it on a spiritual level, but his wife did too. We talked about some very mundane things, like labor unions, but always from a spiritual point of view. I know, I know, Baptists carry their religion on their coat sleeves, as we might say, but I can admire something like that just the same. And I could wish that there was more of that in our lives. God first. Whether you eat, or whether you drink, or whatever you do, start the day with God. As soon as you awaken, pray. And the last thing you do before you go to sleep, pray. Remember the Lord and all His benefits, and say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”