Cornelius Hanko is an emeritus minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Ques. 99. What is required in the third commandment?

Ans. That we, not only by cursing or perjury, but also by rash swearing, must not profane or abuse the name of God; nor by silence or connivance be partakers of these horrible sins in others; and briefly, that we use the holy name of God no otherwise than with fear and reverence; so that he may be rightly confessed and worshipped by us, and be glorified in all our words and works.

Ques. 180. Is then the profaning of God’s name, by swearing or cursing, so heinous a sin, that his wrath is kindled against those who do not endeavor, as much as in them lies, to prevent and forbid such cursing and swearing?

Ans. It undoubtedly is, for there is no sin greater or more provoking to God, than the profaning of his name; and therefore he has commanded this sin to be punished with death.

Heid. Catechism, Lord’s Day 36

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name!

May all the angels in heaven and all the saints about the throne praise Thee continually!

May the starry heavens, the broad expanse of the oceans, the creatures that roam upon the face of the earth; may trees and plants and flowers; yea, may all Thy wide and vast creation praise Thee forever and ever!

May Thy saints on earth praise Thee! May all that hath breath serve to the glory of Thy matchless Name!

And thou, my soul, above all, praise thou the Lord!

In each of the ten commandments our God approaches closer to us.

In the first command He speaks to us, saying, I am Jehovah, thy Almighty, who delivered thee from the power of Satan and from the bondage of sin and death! I am God alone! Thy only God! Love and serve Me alone!

In the second command we hear Him say, I am your Jehovah, your Almighty, the source of all your blessedness! Love and serve Me in all My fullness!

Now God draws still nearer to us by giving us a deeper insight into His intimate covenant fellowship with His people in Christ!

I have revealed My Name to you, My child!

Honor thou my Name!

We are dealing with God’s Name!

Your and my name as such have very little meaning, except that they serve to distinguish one from the other. Yet that name, just like the name of Martin Luther or John Calvin, is your or my name, distinguishing us from all the millions of people who have lived, do live, or will live upon the earth. It also involves our reputation, for a “good name is rather to be chosen than riches” (Prov. 22:1).

God’s Names are important because they accurately describe to us who and what God is. He entrusts His Names to us that we may thereby know Him, and speak to Him and of Him. Among the many Names given to us the Name Jehovah stands out in the Old Testament as God’s Name of intimate covenant fellowship, while in the New Testament the covenant Name of Father is on the foreground.

Since these various Names can never express the fullness of God’s infinite perfection, Scripture refers to this fullness with the word NAME. The Psalmist declares, “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth.” And. again, “For that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare” (Psalm 8:1Psalm 75:1).

God speaks to us in the rumbling thunder, but also in the song of the wren. We hear His voice in the raging hurricane, but also in the rustling of the wind in the trees. We see His Name written across the starry heavens, in the golden fields of grain, and in the tender flower. Do you hear it say, “Zion is delivered through judgment”?

Yet we have a far richer revelation of His glorious Name in God’s autobiography, the holy Scriptures. There He reveals the secrets of His heart to the objects of His love, whom He has chosen in Christ Jesus as His cherished possession unto all eternity. He tells us His plans and purposes. He makes known to us His mighty work throughout the course of history as the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ. He tells us of the world to come and the glory that abides forever!

The most amazing revelation of God’s Name is in the cross of our Savior. There God’s love and God’s justice meet together. His holy justice demands the sacrifice of His only begotten Son as a ransom for the sins of His people. His love for us requires the surrender of His Son into death, even into the torments of eternal hell to bring us to glory. God gave His Son, and the Son laid down His life, while we were still sinners!

This God of our salvation dwells in us by His Spirit, bestowing on us all the blessings of salvation merited on the cross. We receive the outward sign of baptism and the inner seal of the Spirit whereby we are baptized into the Name, the fullness of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We are renewed in the image of Christ in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, to know, to love, and to serve God in love. We are made sons and daughters by the Spirit of adoption who cries in us and causes us to cry, Abba, Father! He is our God! Our Refuge! Our Strength! Our eternal joy and blessedness!

Holy is His Name!

It tells us that God is uniquely GOD! He is the infinite fullness of all His glorious perfections, the Fountain of life, the Source of every good and perfect gift, God above all, blessed, adorable forever!

He is separated from all that is creature, and from all sin, in order to be devoted to His own glorious perfection! He is Self-existent, Self-sufficient, completely independent from any creature. He seeks His own honor and glory in all His thinking, willing, and working. Our God lives His blessed life in fellowship of love, for He is love. He is the source of all true love, so that to love Him is to share His intimate communion of life. He is the Holy One of Israel! Before Him the angels hide their faces in worship as they present their Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, in adoration before Him. When the prophet Isaiah saw God’s glory filling the temple he cried out, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). This is eternal life, to know Him and to worship before Him in the beauty of holiness as saints in Christ!

Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain!

Literally we read, Thou shalt not lift up the Name of Jehovah thy Almighty to vanity!

Vanity is that which is empty, corrupt, darkness, and sin—Satan’s realm! There the hatred of the evil heart expresses itself in blasphemy. God gives the blasphemer over to this horrible sin to fill the cup of his iniquity unto his own just condemnation. He pretends to have banished God from his life, yet he cannot refrain from cursing Him. Although he mocks with the idea. of hell, he damns everything and everyone he sees. The Lord will certainly hold himguilty. God regards him as a paria, an outcast, a leper, destined for hell!

But nowhere is this heinous sin so grossly committed as in the church. God gave His Name to be honored and we dishonor it! He entrusted it to us for His glory and we misuse it! He comes near to us through His Name, that we may worship Him, and we turn our backs to Him! We praise Him in song, we curse Him in our daily lives! “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be! Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” James 3:10. Gross swearing is heard from adults, teenagers, and . . . even from small children. And that among those who call themselves saints! Shame on us!

Scripture also warns that in the church our yes is yes and our no is no, and that whatever more we should add is sin! We have no need for the oath, not among saints!

Likewise, Scripture warns against what is often referred to as the mild oath, words that have a hidden reference to God, to Jesus, to the devil, and to heaven or hell, used in order to replace the rash oath. Some of these words sound very much like the Name of God or of Jesus. Some refer to heaven, which is God’s throne. Some refer to hell, which is God’s place of judgment. God’s attributes should be too highly respected to be spoken of lightly, as in “mercy me” and similar expressions. We are warned against the thoughtless repetition of God’s Name in our prayers, which can be very offensive to the listeners in a public prayer, and certainly must be much more offensive to God. Prayers that bring God down to our level, speaking to God as if He were one of us, must be strongly condemned. But prayers must also be avoided that are mere formalities, a collection of platitudes. In judgment day we will be amazed at how few of our prayers were actually acceptable in God’s sight! Our Book of Instruction warns us that there is no sin greater or more provoking to God than the blaspheming of His Name!

Yet even so we have not been warned sufficiently. Our Catechism speaks of sinning by silence or connivance! Holy zeal for our God must fill us with just wrath whenever we hear His Name abused. We can be so concerned about our own name, yet what does our name amount to in comparison with the Name of the Holy One of Israel? Certainly those who habitually make themselves guilty of these sins cannot be our friends and companions. We must be able to sing with a good conscience:

On what is base and evil I will not set my heart;

Transgressors ways abhorring with them I take no part.

No froward man or evil shall my companion be;

I will not suffer slander or pride or treachery!

That is still only the negative aspect of this command. Positively the Lord requires of us that we use His Name “no otherwise than with fear and reverence.”

Holy fear is meant here, making us deeply conscious of God’s holy majesty and our own insignificance and wretchedness, of God’s love and our unworthiness, of God’s abundant blessings and our utter dependence upon Him. This fear creates a God-consciousness in our lives, which becomes a praying without ceasing!

Reverence requires that we remember, declare, and exalt the Name of God in word and deed, in our private devotions and in our external walk of life. This is a working out of our salvation in fear and trembling, in the awareness that it is God who works in us both to will and to do according to His good pleasure. For we are His workmanship, each of us serving his own purpose toward the coming of His kingdom!

But who of us can place his hand in his bosom and have it come forth untainted with sin? Who can escape the terrible indictment: for Jehovah thy God will not hold him guiltless that takes His Name in vain? What else could we expect but a retrogression in faith and spiritual life? Every day anew we are driven to the cross, to cling to the bleeding feet of our Savior, pleading for forgiving mercies and grace to learn more perfectly to love the Lord our God with our whole being!

For whom have I, Lord, in heaven and on earth besides Thee? Thou art my only Good, my Hope, my Trust, my joy and praise, my all!

My Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name!