The Story Behind: Breathe on Me, Breath of God

Breathe on Me, Breath of God
CLICK TO LISTEN: Breathe on Me Breath of God

By Taylor Brantley

The Bible is full of theological issues ripe for debate. Breathe on Me, Breath of God was written by a man who studied such issues in great depth, yet always needed a reminder that at the Bible’s core is a message of simple truth.

Edwin Hatch was born in Derby, England, 1835. From a young age, Edwin stood out for his work ethic and intellect. While attending King Edward’s School – a highly prestigious school both of past and present – Edwin’s personal teacher made note of Edwin’s independent efforts in education. Whereas most children were eager to finish their lessons for the day, Edwin soaked in all he could, then pursued furthering learning in his own time.

Edwin went on to study at Pembroke College in Oxford. Prior to Edwin’s admission, the college was home to a group of men who called themselves the Birmingham Set. The group’s function was simple: the appreciation of arts and literature. Within the campus library, the Birmingham Set discussed poetry from Percy Shelley, novels from Charles Dickens, arts and architecture from John Ruskin, and so on. Beyond the library, the group was known to venture across Europe, visiting notable churches and medieval sites. Though they were well established when Edwin joined the college, by 1856 Edwin had become the group’s most dominant figure.

Beyond college, Edwin’s intellectual pursuits burned ever on. College professor, high-school rector, university vice-principle; Edwin was all of these and more. Being a man of God, Edwin was drawn to the study of deep theology, for it combined God and learning. Naturally, he became so well versed in theology that he became a religious lecturer. Of his lectures, he is most remembered for his Bampton lectures; lectures known for profound theological discourse. These lectures, which displayed Edwin at his most studious, were published and translated into various languages. However, the most famous publication of this highly educated man ended up being a prayer of simplest and most humble nature: Breathe on Me, Breath of God.

Edwin wrote Breathe on Me, Breath of God in 1878 and kept it private for many years. This adds to the unique nature of the hymn: it was originally meant only for Edwin and God. As much as Edwin loved complex thoughts and theologies, he understood that at the core of Christianity is something incredibly simple: faith in God. It is not too far a stretch to assume Edwin wrote the hymn as a reminder to never get bogged down in complex theology.

Though the hymn’s original intent was to be a private prayer, it reached new ears over the years, and in 1886, Breathe on Me, Breath of God was published by Henry Allen in The Congregational Psalmist. Since then, Edwin’s private prayer has become a prayer of the many.

“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
-John 20:21-22

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7 Comments. Leave new

  • I heard this hymn when I was in high school some 50 years ago. It was at a vesper service and I learnt it that night and it made such a difference in my life and in my worship. I could never finish singing it without my eyes welling up with tears that overflowed down my cheeks, and my heart swelled with love and gratitude to such a wonderful Father and Friend!

  • The simplicity of thought and words set to this wonderful soothing music, reminded me of the first time I learnt it when in school. Highly captivating and Biblically sound ! Praise You Jesus !

  • What a wonderful song made even more wonderful after reading this! Thank you!

  • I was praying for my prodigal daughter early one morning. I prayed breathe new life into her and this song immediately came to mind. I looked up the words and prayed them over my daughter. Thank you Jesus that down through the ages you continue to speak to your people with fresh anointing and breath from heaven.

  • Major William L. Kean
    January 2, 2023 12:24 am

    I am a Salvation Army Officer retired but gone back into the work overseeing two corps. Raised a Salvationist we often sang this song in our morning Holiness meetings. Tonight I decided to read all the scriptures on the Holy Spirit from my topical Bible as a New Years special and I came to John 20: 22 He breathed on them and saith unto them receive tender the Holy Ghost. I immediately began to sing the first verse of that beautiful hymn and felt compelled to look it up in our hymn book What a deep impression it made upon me and I decided to wonder if there was a bio on the author. What a beautiful treat to read about Edwin Hatch he certainly did keep it simple yet so profound. Thank you immensely for such a treat What a sweet conclusion for a New Year’s Day spent in listening and reading about the treasure in earthen vessels that God has given us in the face of Christ.
    Blessings in Christ Jesus

  • As a SDA child growing up this hymnal was called breath on me breath of life. I see it’s called Breath on me breath of God. Different melody. Interesting. With same meaning.


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