In the early ages of the world there appears to have been a much stronger persuasion of Divine interposition in human affairs than generally prevails in our times. Even heathens, whose gods were vanity, put their trust in them. In all their wars, they not only took counsel with their wise men, but consulted their oracles. Rollin, from Xenophon, holds it up as one of the great virtues of Cyrus that he respected the gods. “In the sight of all his army,” says he, “he makes mention of the gods, offers sacrifices and libations to them, addresses himself to them by prayer and invocation, and implores their succour and protection. What a shame, then, and a reproach, would it be to a Christian officer or general, if, on a day of battle, he should blush to appear as religious and devout as a pagan prince; and if the Lord of hosts and God of armies, whom he acknowledges as such, should make a less impression on his mind than a respect for the false deities of paganism did upon the mind of Cyrus!” Yet this is the fact. Now and then, on an occasion of great success, God is acknowledged; but in general he is disregarded. How is this to be accounted for? Cyrus’s gods were according to his mind; but, with the true God, the dispositions of the greater part of mankind are at perfect variance. Real Christians still acknowledge him in all their ways, and he directs their paths; but merely nominal Christians, having a God who is not according to their minds, think but little of him, feel ashamed to own him, and thus sink into practical atheism. To know that there is a God is necessary, indeed, to true religion; but if we stop there, it will be of no use. What is the Supreme Being of modern unbelievers? and of what account is their knowledge of him? As the author of the machinery of the universe, he is admired, and magnified in such a way as to render it beneath him to interfere with the affairs of mortals, or to call them to account.
The true knowledge of God is less speculative than practical. It is remarkable with what deep reverence the inspired writers speak of God. Moses, when relating his appearance at the bush, did not attempt to explain his name, but communicated it in the words which he heard. “And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you, and they will say unto me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I am that I am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I am hath sent me unto you.” This sublime language suggests not only his self-existence, but his incomprehensibleness It is beyond the powers of a creature even to be taught what he is.
“As to the being of God,” says Dr. Owen, “we are so far from a knowledge of it, so as to be able to instruct one another therein by words and expressions of it, as that to frame any conceptions in our own mind, with such species of impressions of things as we receive the knowledge of all other things by, is to make an idol to ourselves, and so to worship a god of our own making, and not the God that made us. We may as well and as lawfully hew him out of wood and stone, as form him a being in our minds suited to our apprehensions. The utmost of the best of our thoughts of the being of God is, that we can have no thoughts of it. Our knowledge of a being is but low when it mounts no higher but only to know that we know it not.—There be some things of God which he himself hath taught us to speak of, and to regulate our expressions of them; but when we have so done, we see not the things themselves, we know them not; to believe and to admire is all that we can attain to. We profess, as we are taught, that God is infinite, omnipotent, eternal; and we know what disputes and notions there are about omnipresence, immensity, infinity, and eternity. We have, I say, words and notions about these things; but as to the things themselves, what do we know? what do we comprehend of them? Can the mind of man do any thing more but swallow itself up in an infinite abyss, which is as nothing? give itself up to what it cannot conceive, much less express? Is not our understanding brutish in the contemplation of such things? and is as if it were not? Yea, the perfection of our understanding is, not to understand, and to rest there: they are the back parts of eternity and infinity that we have a glimpse of. What shall I say of the Trinity, or the subsistence of distinct persons in the same individual essence; a mystery by many denied, because by none understood; a mystery whose very letter is mysterious.—‘How little a portion is heard of him?’ ”
In the Epistles of Paul there are various instances in which, having mentioned the name of God, he stops to pay him adoration. Thus when describing the dishonour put upon him by worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator, he pauses, and adds, “Who is blessed for ever. Amen!” Thus also, speaking of Christ as having “given himself to deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father,” he adds, “To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen!” And thus, when having spoken of the exceeding abundant grace shown to himself as the chief of sinners, he adds, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen!”
It is the name of God that gives authority, importance, and glory to every person or thing with which it stands connected. The glory of man, above the rest of the creatures, consisted in this: “God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him.” This, and not merely the well-being of man, is the reason given why murder should be punished with death. “He that sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” This is the great sanction to the precepts and threatenings of the law: “That thou mayest fear that fearful name, the Lord thy God.” Herein consists the great evil of sin; and of that sin especially which is committed immediately against God. “Know thou therefore, and see, that it is an evil thing, and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord of hosts. If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him; but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him?” The sin of the men of Sodom, though it had reached to heaven, yet was not completed till they persevered in it, when smitten of God with blindness. Pharaoh and the Egyptians had grievously oppressed Israel; but it was by persevering in their sins notwithstanding the judgments of God, and presuming to follow his people into the sea, that they brought upon themselves destruction. Of this nature was the disobedience of Saul, the boasting of Sennacherib and Rabshakeh, the pride of Nebuchadnezzar, the profanation of the sacred vessels by Belshazzer, and the shutting up of John in prison by Herod. Each of these men had done much evil before; but, by setting themselves directly against God, they sealed their doom. It is on this principle that idolatry and blasphemy were punished with death under the theocracy, and that, under the gospel, unbelief and apostacy are threatened with damnation.
God manifested himself in creation, in giving laws to his creatures, in the providential government of the world, and in other ways; but all these exhibited him only in part: it is in the gospel of salvation, through his dear Son, that his whole character appears; so that, from invisible, he in a sense becomes visible. “No one had seen God at any time; but the only begotten Son, who dwelleth in the bosom of the Father, he declared him.” What is it that believers see in the gospel when their minds are spiritually enlightened? It is “the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.” Whatever is visible in an object is called its face. Thus we speak of the face of the heavens, of the earth, and of the sea; and in each of these the glory of God is to be seen; but in the face of Jesus Christ, that is, in that which has been manifested to us by his incarnation, life, preaching, miracles, sufferings, resurrection, and ascension, the glory of God is seen in a degree that it has never been seen in before. The apostle, when speaking of God in relation to the gospel, uses the epithet “blessed” with singular propriety: “According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” The gospel is the grand emanation from the fountain of blessedness, an overflow of the Divine goodness. It is the infinitely happy God, pouring forth his happiness upon miserable sinners, through Jesus Christ. The result is, that, as God is the Great Supreme, he must in all things occupy the supreme place. Thus we are required, by his law, to love him first, and then to love our neighbour as ourselves; and thus the coming of Christ is celebrated, first as giving “glory to God in the highest,” and then “peace on earth and good-will to men.”
Excerpt from: “The Being of God,” in Letters on Systematic Divinity, Letter IV.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 693–695). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.