Higher Than I #9: Breathe On Me

Higher Than I

Breathe on Me is the eighth track of the Clayton Church worship album, Higher Than I, which was officially launched on Sunday 1 May.

Album Tracks/Index

  1. Praise to the Lord Almighty
  2. Higher Than I
  3. Blessed Assurance
  4. Great is Your Love
  5. You Are 
  6. How Majestic
  7. I Desire
  8. Breathe on Me (this article)
  9. What A Friend We Have In Jesus
  10. Wonderful Cross
  11. Summary / One Month Review

Official Links

Song Background / Original Hymn

Breathe On Me is an adaptation of the original hymn written by Edwin Hatch who was born at Derby, 1835, and studied a Bachelor of Arts at Pembroke College, Oxford, with honours, in 1857. After holding important appointments in Canada, he returned to England and became Vice-Principal of St. Mary Hall, Oxford, 1867; and Rector of Purleigh, 1883. His hymn-writing was limited. One, and that a very spirited lyric, is in Allon’s Congregational Psalmist Hymnal, 1886 “Breathe on me, Breath of God.”

The following lyrics are part of the original hymn. As a hymn, it was verses only, sung after one another.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Blend all my soul with Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.

Breathe on Me, Breathe of God was the song that was the catalyst for us as a team wanting to modernise more hymns. Our worship director was searching online for public domain hymns and this song popped up. The thought, when first listening to it, was that these lyrics embodied exactly where Clayton Church, as a congregation was at. After a preview of a really old version of the song found online, but our worship director struggled to discern the intended melody, so instead, he stopped the playback and grabbed his guitar. With a nominal guide from what he had heard, our director then played chords and started singing the lyrics as he thought they made sense to him. The song just came together as a result and made perfect sense “Breathe on Your church, breathe on Your people”. This then became the heart of the song – for God to breathe new life into His people.

When you listen to some of the original hymn versions of the song, they are all sung at a medium to slow tempo. In contrast, because the original arrangement and chord progressions have been put aside, the Clayton Church / 2016 modernisation becomes a new song, sung with medium pace and is quite driven. The biggest change is the introduction of a chorus, which musically provides an answer and resolution to the seeking and searching of the verses.

Lyric Analysis

Breathe on me, Breath of God is a hymn written as a prayer. It was also given the title of “Spiritus Dei” meaning “Spirit of God”, and thus linked the image of ‘breath’ with that of the Holy Spirit (as in the Greek, where the same word is used for “spirit” and “breath.”

Each verse begins with “Breathe on Me, Breath of God.” to remind us that we are God’s creation. Genesis 2:7 says God “formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” The line also reminds us of Jesus breathing on his disciples and saying to them in John 20:22, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. We need the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, living within us, guiding us, inspiring us, and helping us to live the kind of life that God created us to live.

This hymn prays that God will breathe on us and fill us with life anew, even as God breathed life into Adam. It prays that God will breathe on us to purify our hearts. It prays that God will breathe on us until we are wholly devoted to God. It prays that God will breathe on us so that we might never die. This hymn, then, is a prayer for God’s help in this life and throughout eternity.

Breathe on me, Breath of God is also a meditation of John 3:3-8:

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time unto his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind blows where it listed, and you hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell where it comes, and where it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

Over the centuries, different tunes have been developed for these lyrics. The tune for the traditional hymn was named, “Carlisle” and was written by Charles Lockhart. Lockhart was blind from birth but despite this handicap he was a notable church organist in London, England and was very instrumental in organizing Children’s choirs. Charles Lockhart was born in 1745 and died in 1815. Another alternate tune was written for it by Robert Jackson. He was born in May 1842, in Lancashire, England. This tune is also sung in some churches today. And now, in 2015-16, Clayton Church has created another completely different tune to freshen up this hymn.

Breathe on me, breath of God
Fill me with life anew
That I may love what You Lord love
And do what You would do

Breathe on me, breath of God
Until my heart is pure
And my will is one with Yours
To do and to endure

Breathe on me, breath of God
Breathe on me, may my heart be pure

Breathe on me, breath of God
Till I am entirely Yours
And this earthly part of me
Glows with Your heart

Breathe on me, breath of God
So I shall never die
But live with Thee, the perfect life
And through eternity

Breathe on me, breath of God
Breathe on me, may my heart be pure
Breathe on me, breath of God
Breathe on me, may I love as You have loved