Today, in honor of the 506th birthday of Sanctus Johannes de Gallia, a passage of great power and eloquence on life and death, death and birth, from his comments on Psalm 104:29-30. Our capacity for life is wholly derived, not from ourselves, but from God who made us. Without his continual upholding, we would perish instantly. Even Plato knew this, Calvin says–and it was the will of God to “awaken all men” to this knowledge by Plato’s teaching.
God’s look is sufficient to give life, and the turning away of his countenance is enough to cause life to cease. The daily decay and renewal of the world is a reminder of the “life-giving power of God”; and we should remember here that the Creed calls the Spirit the “Lord and giver of life.” When we die, it is a reminder of our utter dependence on God for even the briefest moment of life, and a reminder of our “nothingness” without his sustaining hand. And yet new births show us the renewal of the creation and God’s goodness to it.
For the children of God, moreover, though they die, they die not. We can give thanks for the birth of John Calvin, then; and, though he died as all men die, yet he lives and rejoices with his Savior, while awaiting that final renewal of the world which the world’s daily renewal pre-signifies, when death shall be no more and God shall be all in all.
29 Thou shalt hide thy face, and they shall be afraid In these words, the Psalmist declares, that we stand or fall according to the will of God. We continue to live, so long as he sustains us by his power; but no sooner does he withdraw his life-giving spirit than we die. Even Plato knew this, who so often teaches that, properly speaking, there is but one God, and that all things subsist, or have their being only in him. Nor do I doubt, that it was the will of God, by means of that heathen writer, to awaken all men to the knowledge, that they derive their life from another source than from themselves. In the first place, the Psalmist asserts, that if God hide his face they are afraid; and, secondly, that if he take away their spirit they die, and return to their dust; by which words he points out, that when God vouchsafes to look upon us, that look gives us life, and that as long as his serene countenance shines, it inspires all the creatures with life…. [H]e termed that the spirit of God which proceeds from him. By the way, he instructs us, that it is ours, because it is given us, that it may quicken us. The amount of what is stated is, that when we see the world daily decaying, and daily renewed, the life-giving power of God is reflected to us herein as in a mirror. All the deaths which take place among living creatures, are just so many examples of our nothingness, so to speak; and when others are produced and grow up in their room, we have in that presented to us a renewal of the world. Since then the world daily dies, and is daily renewed in its various parts, the manifest conclusion is, that it subsists only by a secret virtue derived from God.