“He breathed upon them,” and said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” and by that act Christ came into contact with His disciples in a new relationship and power. In the life-giving power of a breathing life, He endowed His own for life and service.
Christ, as the Breather of the Holy Spirit, reveals the intimate relationship there is between them, and shows the Life-giver, and the Life given. Therefore “Breath” as an emblem of the Holy Spirit speaks of Him in the livingness of His Divine inspiration. The thought is happily expressed in the following lines:
“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.”
There are three main embodying thoughts found in connection with Breath in the Scriptures:
- Inspiration, or The Inbreathing of Life.
- Invigoration, or The Power to Perform.
- Exhalation, or The Breathing out of Blessing.
Inspiration signifies in-breathing, or the power which gives life to anything, hence Channing says, “One great thought breathed into a man may regenerate him.”
Man owes his natural life to the Spirit. Elihu declared long ago, “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the Breath of the Almighty hath given me life ” (Job 33:4). Man’s spirit-nature was created before his body was formed, and after his body was formed, God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. Man was a created spirit before he was a living soul, for the image of God in man is, as Dr. Dale says, “The nature of God,” that is, man, like God, is a spirit-being. The soul or breath unites the spirit and body. Angels are spirits, but have no soul or animal life; but man has, and is, a spirit, soul and body. Therefore a man is a breathing personality, as a live human being under present conditions. When he dies, like the son of the widow of Zarephath, there is “no breath left in him ” (I Kings 17:17). Things that are dead are again and again described as having “no breath” (Psalm 104:29; 135:17)
Spiritual life is essentially the impartation of the Spirit, as Christ declares, “That which is begotten of the Spirit is spirit.” Perhaps no finer illustration of the Spirit’s living work can be found than that which we find in Ezekiel 37, where the restoration of Israel’s national and spiritual life is depicted, under the metaphor of a valley of dry bones, and how they live by His operation.
First, God promises in relation to the dry bones, “I will cause breath to enter in you, and ye shall live.” Then there was a shaking among the dry bones, and they are adjusted to each other, and covered with sinews and flesh, but there “was no breath in them.” Then the prophet was commanded to prophesy to the “Breath” (margin) and to say, “Thus saith the Lord God, come from the four winds, O Breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the Breath came into them, and they lived” (Ezekiel 37:4-10).
The spiritual resurrection of Israel is a type of the Spirit’s quickening of dead sinners. Like Israel, sin has slain us, death has mortified us, and we are dry and helpless. There may be, as the vision suggests, the shaking of the dry bones of conscience and interest in Divine things: there may be the placement of bone to bone, in a clear conception in the mind of how we may be saved; there may be the covering of the dry bones by the flesh of religious profession and the sinews of self-determination, but these are not life. The sinner has sense-consciousness in his body, life-consciousness in his soul, and self-consciousness in his spirit, but the one thing which makes the saint to differ from the sinner is God-consciousness. As long as the sinner is without God, he is without at least seven things:
- without the blood of Christ, which alone can remit the past and release
the sinner from the hold of sin (Hebrews 9: 22);
- without Christ, Who alone can save, sanctify and satisfy (Ephesians 2:12);
- without peace which alone can calm the mind and silence the conscience (Isaiah 57:21);
- without hope, which alone can clear the vision and make the future bright with coming glory (Ephesians 2:12);
- without life, which alone can qualify to see and enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5);
- without strength, for the sinner has no ability to rise to higher things (Romans 5:6);
- and without the Spirit, for those who are not the Lord’s are summed up in the destitution of their need, as “having not the Spirit” (Jude 19).
On the other hand, how much is expressed by the pregnant statement, “alive unto God.” The Greek word rendered “alive” in Romans 6:11 is “Zao,” and is a primary verb, and means to live. An interesting study is suggested by the use of the word as applied to the spiritual life.
- It is a God-imparted and a Christ-secured life, for Christ came by way of the Cross that we might “live through Him” (I John 4:9).
- It is a Christ-identified and a Christ-associated life, for He says, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19).
- It is a God-derived and Christ-sustained life, as Christ declares: “As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by (because of) the Father, so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by (because of) Me ” (John 6:57).
- It is a self-displacing and a Christ-centred life, for all those who know Him cease to “live unto themselves, but unto Him” (II Corinthians 5:15).
- It is a Spirit-inscribed and a Spirit-indited life, for believers are the epistle of the living God, and He inscribes His character on their inner being (II Corinthians 3:3).
- It is a Christ-indwelt and a Christ-revealing life, for each indwelt believer recognizes what the Apostle said, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in Me” (Galatians 2:20).
- It is a brethren-considerate and a Lord-controlled life, hence brethren who “live unto the Lord” do not despise nor judge each other (Romans 14:7-9).
- It is a saint-helping and a missionary-loving life, for it ever hears the voice of the missionary plea, “Now we live if ye stand fast in the Lord” (I Thessalonians 3:8).
- And it is a God-controlled and a God-goaled life, for being “alive from the dead” we recognize we are “alive unto God” (Romans 6:11,13).
Scott speaks of
“Two dogs of black St. Hubert’s breed,
Unmatched for courage, breath, and speed.”
Here he used “breath” to indicate ability and freedom of action. The potential fact of Christianity is, God never asks from us anything without giving us the power to perform it.
What is indicated when Christ breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit ?” There is no article in the original, therefore it should read, “Receive ye Holy Spirit.” Godet says, “The absence of the article before Holy Spirit, shows that the question is not yet the sending of the Paraclete promised,” but the “receive” indicates “He puts their will in unison with His own, that they may be prepared for the common work.”
The promise of Pentecost was to “be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49), and that power was the accompaniment of the Spirit. “Ye shall receive power, the Holy Spirit coming upon you” (Acts 1:8).
“There is,” says one, “a magnetism in a personal appeal, which no words conveyed through another can possess.” Every personality wields a power for weal or woe: therefore, personality means power. Christ especially emphasizes this when He says: “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:8). He brings the power, and is the power. He does not give us the power that we may use it, but He is the power that He may use us. There is a sevenfold power that believers need: namely, power to be, power to do, power to suffer, power to keep, power to pray, power to give, and power to speak.
How many men owe everything in life to one young heart that trusted them when all was doubtful, one faithful love that kept them company as long as ever it could! “I never was anything till I knew you,” wrote Tom Hood to his wife. How true are those words, “I never was anything till I knew you,” applied to the Holy Spirit, every believer testifies! And we shall never be anything, nor continue to be anything, except we “know Him ” — know Him in the power of His life, in the strength of His might, in the glow of His love, in the lowliness of His humility, in the sanctity of His holiness, in the wisdom of His guidance, in the inspiration of His Word, and in the glory of His Personality.
Exhalation describes the act of out-breathing. One expresses the thought in speaking of Nature being clothed with the beauty which comes from the dawn:
“Clothing the palpable and familiar
With golden exhalations of the dawn.”
Speaking of the death of a man in his helplessness, we read, “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth ” (Psalm 146:4). In general operation exhalation expresses the fragrance of the flowers, the ministry of the trees in purifying the air, and the action of heat drawing forth the vapours of the earth. Taking these thoughts only: we may say, they metaphorically express the work of the Spirit. He draws forth the natural powers from the swamp of our sinfulness. He causes to come forth the graces of His holiness, and He brings forth the fragrance of His flowers of character.
The Spirit draws forth the natural powers from the swamp of our sinfulness, and changes them into the garden of His productiveness. “The heavens remit in bountiful showers what they had exhaled in vapour,” so says one in writing of the action of the sun in drawing the vapours from the earth. We can imagine if the sun could reach the malarious swamp with its miasma the poison of the gas would be dissipated, and the swamp annihilated. The same change can be accomplished in the realm of moral and spiritual spheres of the heart and life.
A working man, who had spent his life in dissipation, but was turned to God, and made a new creature in Christ, was twitted by an atheist, who denied the miraculous by saying, “You don’t believe that Christ turned water into wine!”
“Oh, yes I do,” replied the saved man, “and what’s more, if you will come to my home, I will show you something more wonderful!”
“What’s that?” was the ready question.
“Why, in my home, He’s turned beer into furniture!”
Sin will cause men to change the glory of the incorruptible God into man-made images of their own creation, and cause them to walk in all unholy and unnatural living (Romans 1:23-32); but the Holy Spirit can change the mind of thought, so that we are transformed into the likeness of Christ, even as He was transfigured in His body. (See the words “Transfigured” in Matthew 17:2, “Transformed” in Romans 12:2, and “Changed” in II Corinthians 3:18, which are one and the same in the original.)
The Spirit can cause to come forth from Himself in us the graces of His holiness.
One has said, “The under side of every leaf is furnished with thousands of tiny mouths, through which the leaf breathes back upon the world the air it has purified and sweetened for human uses. And so the foliage of a mighty forest is like a cluster of fountains from which health and quickening alchemies are ever pouring, which supply the needs of all those kingdoms of life gathered under its shadow. And in the same way the Holy Spirit of God breathes upon us from every point of our environment. Through countless mouths His soul-quickening influences flow silently unto us, neutralising the doubt, sloth, and sin exhaled from the lower nature, so that we can breathe back our souls to God in faith and desire continuous as the river from God’s throne.”
What a difference between Paul as Saul “breathing out threatenings and slaughter” against the disciples of the Lord, and the benedictions of his Christly service on behalf of others.
We often see a notice of a shop to let: “These premises will be converted to meet the wishes of the incoming tenant”: thus if a grocer takes the shop which had been occupied by a butcher, the whole place has to be converted. Try and think what Saul was as Saul, and what Paul became as Paul.
Saul versus Paul.
- Did much evil (Acts 9:13). Did much good (II Timothy 4:7)
- Causing others to suffer (Acts 9:14). Suffering with Christ (II Corinthians 11:23-28).
- Breathing out threatenings (Acts 9:1). “Behold he prayeth” (Acts 9: 1).
- Kicking against the pricks (Acts 9:5). Serving the Lord (Acts 27:23).
- Journeying towards Damascus with ill-intent (Acts 9:3). Pressing towards the mark for the prize (Philippians 3:14).
- Self-righteous in his religion (Philippians 3:4-6). Gaining Christ (Philippians 3:7-9).
- A malignant persecutor (Galatians 1:13). A mighty witness (Galatians 1:15-24).
An old soldier in Cornwall once described conversion as “Halt. Attention. Right about face. Quick march.” Halting in the course of sin: paying attention to the call of the Gospel: turning to the Lord: and then going onward in the Divine life; and that going forward is only possible as we are energised and equipped by the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit brings forth the fragrance of the flowers of His character.
An author, in describing the work of another, says: “A breath of beauty and noble feeling lives in and exhales from the whole of his great work like the fragrance from a garden of flowers.” And another has sung of flowers:
“Sweet letters of the angel tongue,
I’ve loved thee long and well,
And never have failed in your fragrance sweet
To find some secret spell,–
A charm that has bound me with witching power,
For mine is the old belief,
That, ‘midst your sweets and ‘midst your bloom
There’s a soul in every leaf.”
Where there is the soul of the Spirit’s reality, there will be the fragrance of soul-lifting influence. So many Christian lives are not attractive. They are more like bare trees in the winter time. They lack the beauty of foliage and flowers. There is life, but no fragrance. It is said of Sir Isaac Newton, that he had “the flower of a blameless life.” When blamelessness is wedded to fragrance there will be the offspring of appreciation. A little girl was once sitting opposite a Quaker lady in a tramcar, and noticing the sweet face of the latter, she suddenly exclaimed, “Do let me kiss you!” “Yes, my dear, certainly,” she replied. A friendship sprang up between the kissed and the kisser. In the afterwards the girl said, “Were you not surprised that day in the tram when I asked you to let me kiss you?” “Oh no, dear, they often asked me that.” One commenting upon the incident remarks, “The purity and sweetness of her life shone from her face, and made her so winsome and bonny that people could not help wishing to kiss such a face. Her life had flowered.”
God breathes in His life, that He may breathe out His blessing to others. Through His in-breathing life and His indwelling presence, He out-breathes what He asks us to do.
All the Spirit can breathe into us, and out-breathe from us, is by means of that Word which is said to be “God-breathed,” for “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (II Timothy 3:16). The word rendered “inspired of God” is literally “God-breathed.” The Scriptures are the Breath of God, therefore, if we would inbreathe God we can only do so by breathing in the Word. We do well, therefore, to inbreathe the Word of God, for it is not only God-breathed. but God breathing, and as we do so we shall become like it.
This page Copyright © 2000 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/. Check out our Bookstore.