Names are but tags through which we try
Un-ordered things to classify;
Trite formulas of cold address,
Conventional and colorless,
Futile to curse by or to bless,
With no life-pulses in them.
It was not so in days of old,
When God with man would converse hold,
And to hard-praying wrestlers came,
In earthquake, thunder, sheets of flame,
Then, trembling, would they ask his name,
A pledge of help and favor.
Because it was a sacrament,
No creature could such name invent;
It seemed a veritable part
Of God’s own Self, his inmost heart,
A radiant Double which no art
Endeavor durst creating.
Those who received it dared and fought,
And through it saving victories wrought,
It was a buckler and a shield,
A weapon for attack to wield,
A tower uplifted in the field
Of the fierce-raging battle.
The prophets knew its mystery well,
Being sensitive to miracle;
There was in the revealing word,
Though through out-crowding voices heard,
A timbre that their heart-chords stirred,
The “name” in it was potent.
That Moses might his task fulfil,
Jehovah’s name worked as one will,
Condensing all God’s might and power;
Long pent-up forces in one hour
Slew all the youthful manhood’s flower
Of Egypt in one slaying.
And for Isaiah, stranger yet,
The name did for itself beget
Concreteness; it became a word
That could be seen, not merely heard,
It lighted, as swoops down a bird;
He was a man of vision.
Then in Habakkuk much the same
Image is visioned of the name;
He was a man of smaller mould,
Yet what he spake was finest gold;
As a loud storm-bell through it tolled:
“The Lord has come from Paran.”*
Habakkuk shows how prophecy
Evokes sublimest psalmody;
The God who wrought sun, moon and stars,
And all the farther still “afars,”
Controls the inter-stellar wars,*
Made hymnodists of prophets.
The Psalter’s own most glorious themes
Describe how God his saints redeems
By putting in each fighter’s hand
His name through which the weakest band
Can, overwhelmed, maintain its stand,
And cut the foe to pieces.
There was in this no magic spell
To conjure aught from heaven or hell;
E’en from Sheol He suffered not
To have dim muttering voices brought
For learning chance or fixing lot,
Where He Himself had spoken.
For He had woven round the core
Of what seemed but blind sound before
An aura of bright luminous rays,
That made it a transparent face
In pitch-dark nights, sun-flooded days,
Pregnant with revelation.
And when at last the ripened age
Brought with itself the final stage
Then, with God’s work’s maturity,
Appeared the Name’s epiphany,
And in a great synonymy
Christ’s Name and Face were blended.
Yet there are some of Christian kind,
Who, to this marriage-union blind,
Make a new idol of the name
Of Christ or Jesus which they claim
Must work within some magic frame,
Detached from every doctrine.
Thus is our holiest mystery
Turned back to ancient sorcery;
From the Christ-name its face they wipe;
In vaunted wisdom over-ripe,
They have reverted to the type
Of old barbaric custom.
Geerhardus Vos, Charis: English Verses, (Princeton, NJ: Geerhardus Vos, 1931), 14–17.