Breathe On Me Breath of God

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Edwin Hatch was a smart man. He wrote essays on Biblical Greek, a concordance to the Septuagint, and many books on theology. But he also wrote a handful of simple and accessible hymns for his local church, one of which has lived on for centuries around the world: “Breathe On Me, Breath of God.”


Hatch was raised in mid-19th century England, where he was educated at Oxford; he later moved to Canada for many years and made his profession as a scholar and educator. Hatch eventually returned to England as a minister to a local Anglican Church in a small village a few hours from London. It was there that he sought to focus his hymn writing on the topic of the Holy Spirit. His aim was to give his congregation a hymn that would remind them of who the Spirit of God truly is and how we relate to Him. Hatch longed to write in a way that would teach the complex truths of the Holy Spirit in simple terms for people to sing, pray and remember.


John 20:21-22 was a primary source of inspiration for the hymn. Here, John gives his account of the resurrection of Christ:


“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even, so send I you.’ And when Jesus had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”


There is a direct connection in John 20 to Genesis 2:7, where “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” 


British hymnologist J.R. Watson references the original title of the hymn and notes, “The hymn was given the title of ‘Spiritus Dei’ [Spirit of God], thus linking the image of ‘breath’ with that of the Holy Spirit (as in the Greek, where the same word is used for ‘spirit’ and ‘breath).’”


Breathe on me, Breath of God

Fill me with life anew

That I may love as you have loved

And do what you would do


Breathe on me, Breath of God

Until my heart is pure

Until my will is one with yours

To do and to endure


Breath on me, breath of God

Fulfill my hearts desire

Until the earthly part of me

Glows with your heavenly fire


Breathe on me, Breath of God,

So shall I never die,

But live with you the perfect life

Of your eternity


J.R. Watson highlights that the breath of God “brings new life and love, purity and obedience, surrender and inspiration, and finally eternal life, as the hymn moves through various stages of Christian experience and discipline towards a unity with God.


After singing this hymn and carefully reading the lyric, I’m struck by how simple and yet deeply personal this prayer can be for all of us who are in Christ and empowered by the Spirit. Breathe life into ME. Of course this can be a corporate prayer, but it also has such personal requests of the third person of the trinity, giving the hymn a profound and deep intimacy in a way that sometimes hymns of old may lack. 


Michael Hawn spoke of this when discussing “Breathe On Me…”: 


“The author invokes the Holy Spirit to come into his life and transform it. Using the first-person perspective throughout the hymn adds to the hymn’s power as the singer seeks the breath of God (Genesis 2:7) as a source for renewal.”


As you sing and lead this hymn, I would encourage you to take a minute and invite others to stop and carefully read these timeless lyrics. Make it personal for them as they consider the Spirit of God working in their lives and in your midst. Once you’ve done so, consider highlighting the themes of the song as you pray over the congregation…


1.    Spirit of God, help us to love what you love.

2.    Spirit of God, grant us the unity that only you can give.

3.    Spirit of God, help us to be content as you fulfill all the desires of our heart.

4.    Spirit of God, grant us the vision of eternal life with God that is ours in Christ Jesus.