Chapter 2 – The Breath of God

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2: 7. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.” John 3: 8. “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” John 20: 22.

The first of these passages contains the second reference to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, and the other passages prolong the line, and fix the application of the beautiful picture in Genesis to the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The emblem under which the Spirit is here presented to us is the breath and the air, the atmosphere in which we live, and the act by which we inhale or exhale its vital properties and its vitalizing power.

The value and importance of the atmosphere is self-evident. We can live for days without food, and for a lifetime without sight or hearing, but we cannot live an hour without breath. To breathe is the most essential of all our physical functions and is in the Scriptures almost synonymous with life. Again and again we find such expressions as, “Every living thing that hath breath upon the earth.” We cannot see it, we can scarcely feel it, and yet around us there is an ocean of air without which we could not exist, and without which almost all of our senses would be blind, deaf, and vain. Sound could not be communicated without air, the sweet hymns that we have sung could not have been uttered or heard, the voices of our friends would never reach us, and the harmonies of music would be silent and dead. Sight also is dependent upon the atmosphere. Yonder sun seems like a ball of fire in the midst of a pall of darkness, when we get beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Like a fine, transparent lens, the atmosphere receiving the solar rays, diffuses them in floods of light for the organs of vision. Without the atmosphere heat would be unknown. In yonder upper spaces, although seeming to be nearer the sun, there is an everlasting frigid zone; and every drop of blood in our body would be frozen into ice in an instant, were we to pass beyond the tempering air which receives and distributes the solar heat.

Such is the striking and beautiful image under which the Spirit of God is represented. He brings to us the very breath of life for spirit, soul, and body, and creates the atmosphere in which we see the things of God, hear His voice, and dwell in the warmth and radiance of His love. The present passage unfolds the work of the Spirit in man’s original creation, and also suggests the Spirit’s work in the higher unfolding of His restoring and quickening grace.

The first thing we notice in this passage is the marked distinction that is made between the creation of man and that of all other animals. At the creative word, they sprang immediately into existence, and fell into their places in the great economy of nature, without further note or comment. But when man’s creation is about to begin, everything is different. By a significant pause our attention is called to a most important crisis. Then, step by step, the great transaction is accomplished, and we see the first human being coming forth from his Creator’s direct touch in all the completeness of his manifold nature, the wondrous handiwork of God.

We see even the Creator Himself appearing under a new name and in an entirely new aspect. The higher criticism has been fond of questioning the unity of the book of Genesis, because this second chapter gives an entirely new name to God. Because we here meet with Jehovah Elohim, the critics have worked up the astute hypothesis that this is a different God from the Elohim of the first chapter, and that this chapter, therefore, must have had a different author. They tell us also that this is another of the old fragments of Hebrew lore that have come down to us along with Babylonian and Egyptian scrolls and tablets, and that this distinctly proves that Moses could not have been the author of both these chapters. Ah, how much deeper is the thought of God! They used to tell us that the creation of the sun on the fourth day contradicted the statement that light was formed in the beginning. But science has lately discovered that light did exist before the sun, and still exists apart from it; and thus has this earlier wisdom fallen into a ruinous mound of folly.

Moreover, reverent and heaven-taught scholarship has found that there was an infinitely wise and beautiful reason for the change in the divine Name in the second chapter of Genesis. In the first chapter the writer is speaking about dead and soulless matter, and it is quite proper that he should thus speak of God as the Creator of matter. In the second chapter he comes to deal with God in direct relation to His children. It is the Father coming to His household. Man in his spiritual nature is now to be created and presented to us in all the tender spiritual relationships which he is to sustain to God, and to his own race. Therefore, it is as a Father that God comes down into human relations with man and reveals His name as Jehovah God, the God of infinite love and tenderness, the God who was about to send His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The very change of name is both a mark of the kindest design and the tenderest proof of love.

Next we see the formation of the human body out of the dust of the earth. Man’s form was not created out of nothing. The elements of matter were made from nothing, but man was made out of elements already existing, made however, not by a process of evolution which gradually developed a human being of a higher order, but made immediately a complete human form. It was still lifeless, until God touched it with His divine breath, from His own lips; just as in the vision of Ezekiel, where the picture of the final resurrection shows the body first appearing reorganized in all its constituent parts, “bone to its bone, with flesh and skin to cover them above; but there is no breath in them.” There is no evolution here, but the immediate act of creation, succeeded by another act of animation, inspiration, and the divine quickening of the soulless matter into immortal life.

We see here surely, the sacredness of the human body and the value and importance of life. It is the direct work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the life of a man is infinitely more precious than the life of a beast; and the crime of murder is recognized by God as a blow struck at God’s own life, and one which He will most terribly avenge. The daring act of suicide, therefore, is a defiance of the Creator and a reckless destruction of His grandest work. It is one of the awful signs of our times that not only are men killing others, but that in our public press, one of the leaders of infidelity has been allowed publicly to discuss the question of suicide, and to point out the perfect right of every man to do what he chooses with his own life. It is no wonder that such discussions have been followed by an awful increase of suicides in our midst. Such men are desperate and dreadful criminals who pass red-handed in the very act and crime of rebellion into the presence and up to the judgment seat of God. No man has a right even for an instant to entertain such a thought. Life is God’s gift and man’s momentous trust, to be used for God and given back to Him at last in the great account.

We see here that human life comes through the human soul, not through the human body, and springs from the direct touch of the Creator and the inspiration of the Almighty. Man’s life is not, like the life of the brute, a part of his physical organism. The human organs are complete before they receive the touch of life. Our life came not from the ground, nor from the physical forces and functions, but from the imparting of the human soul through God’s direct in-breathing.

Man’s life is so sacred, because it is the direct gift of God’s love, and the very communication of God’s own life. We see the Holy Spirit presented here as the author not only of life, but also of mind and soul. What a glory it gives to our conception of the Holy Ghost, to think of Him as having part in creation! Job says : “Thy Spirit hath garnished the heavens.” The glowing stars, the beautiful firmament, the rainbow, the golden sun, the silvery moon, the sunset clouds in all their radiant glory, are but touches of His infinite wisdom and taste. The talents and endowments of the highest minds, the splendid genius of a Homer and a Milton, the refined taste of a Phidias and a Rembrandt, the sublime musical harmonies of a Haydn and a Beethoven, as well as the seraphic and lofty flights of an Isaiah and a John; all these likewise came originally from the Holy Spirit, and all must reflect the higher qualities of wisdom, grace, and glory which constitute His infinite attributes.

True, man has perverted these splendid gifts, and often made them become selfish, unholy, and even diabolical; but they are none the less splendid, and they were no less originally the gifts of the Spirit and the proofs of His wisdom and power. Is it not inspiring to think that this Holy Ghost who fills our heart, is no mere sentiment of spiritual ecstasy or emotional joy, but is the great Mind from which all minds come, the mighty Soul by Whom all souls were made, the Infinite Spirit from whom all being emanated? As we look at the rainbow as it spans the cloud, and the verdure as it crowns the mountain, the fragrant blossoms that hide in every nook, clothe every rock, and smile on every field, let us think that these are only some of His royal robes, revealing to us a little of what His own essential glory means, and making us think : “How beautiful, how glorious, how infinite is the blessed Holy Spirit!”

Brother, sister, He made thy soul, He gave you your mind, He created for Himself and His high purpose your talents and your powers of both brain and being. What are you doing with your trust? What will you say, when He will ask it back, and call upon you to give an account of your stewardship?

We see here the peculiar characteristic of man as originally created. “Man became a living soul.” The predominant characteristic of natural man is expressed by this word, “soul,” just as the predominant characteristic of the new man in the New Testament is expressed by the word, “spirit.” The soul represents the intellectual and emotional elements that constitute man. The spirit represents the higher and the divine life which links us directly to God, and enables us to know and to come into relationship with divine things.

There is no doubt that man, as originally created, had also a higher and spiritual nature, because the true translation of this passage is, “The Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” His life was manifold. There was physical life, mental life, and spiritual life, but the controlling element was soul. So we read in Corinthians, “The first man Adam was made a living soul, the second man Adam was made a quickening Spirit.”

It would seem as if, at his fall, man lost his spiritual life, or, at least, it became so utterly subordinated to his soulish nature that the natural man was not spiritual. He needed to be born from above by the Spirit of God, and to receive a new spiritual being, in order to be saved. Even in his highest estate Adam was distinctively a living soul, rather than a lofty spirit. His soul-life was predominant. It was sinless and loyal to God, but it was a lower life than that which redeemed men now enjoy.

It was, notwithstanding, a very glorious life, received as it was by a very significant and glorious touch from the Spirit of God. “The Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” The Great Artist fashioned his outward form from the finest clay, and perfected every feature and every function; and then, like a fond mother, kissed the cold lips with His own warm breath of life, flashing into the lifeless form the spark of His eternal life, and lo! the beautiful form sprang into His arms, and man became the living child of his loving Creator. It was only a touch of life, a touch of love, that forever separated and distinguished man above all other beings as the special object of God’s infinite love and care.

“Lord, what is man? Extremes how wide
In his mysterious nature join;
His flesh to worms and dust allied,
His soul immortal and divine.”

Such was the Spirit’s work in the original creation of man. Our text suggests, what the New Testament so freely unfolds, the higher work of the Holy Spirit in the new creation. The Lord Jesus in His discourse respecting the new birth, in the third chapter of John, gives us a very significant hint of this work under the same figure which we find in our text. There He introduces the figure of the wind in its invisible, yet mighty energy and potency, in connection with the regeneration of the human soul by the Holy Ghost.

In His closing interviews with the disciples, in the twentieth chapter of John, “He breathed upon them, and said, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost.’” That picture is so much like the picture of our text that the one seems the complement of the other. In the one case we see the Spirit breathe the old creation into life, and in the other the same Spirit breathes into the new creation the life of God and the power of a higher principle. The figure of the new creation runs through all the Epistles of Paul. “If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation.” “Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” “After God” distinctly implies not only resemblance to God, but derivation from God.

Now, what is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in this new creation? Is it simply the restoration of the Adamic nature in perfection, or is it something higher and more divine? Most assuredly it is the latter. “The first man,” the apostle tells us, “was of the earth earthy, the second Man was the Lord from heaven; the first man was made a living soul, the second Man a quickening Spirit.” Then he adds, “As we have borne the image of the earthly, so shall we also bear the image of the heavenly.”

The Adamic life at its best was only a human life. The Christ life is divine. Natural life is soul life. Divine life is Spirit life.

When the New Testament talks about the natural man it does not mean a gross, sordid, sensual, brutal wretch, groveling in swinish lusts; but it means a man with all the graces and gifts of the highest genius and the most refined culture. He may be a poet like Shakespeare, a composer like Mozart, a sculptor like Phidias, a painter like Raphael, an architect like Wren, an orator like Cicero, or a man with a face as beautiful as an angel and a life as virtuous and stainless as a marble statue, and yet be purely natural, earth-born, and merely a soulish man. When the apostle speaks of “the natural man who perceiveth not the things of God, nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” he uses the word “psychical” man. Now everybody knows that Psyche was not the figure of sensualism, but of beauty, virtue, and moral purity.

The spiritual man is entirely distinct from all this. His life ever finds its center in God, and its delight in His will and fellowship. Its sphere of existence is not the earth, but the coming world, the heavenly kingdom. It does not belong here. Its very instincts turn higher. It has its natural affection and qualities; but they have been transformed by death into a higher life and have risen from the old to the new life, from transient to everlasting. It is true by the very nature of things that “they that are of the Spirit do mind the things of the Spirit.” As the river runs to the sea, as the fire ascends to the sun,

“So a soul that’s born of God
Pants to see His glorious face;
Upward tends to His abode,
To rest in His embrace.”

Thus the chief characteristic of the spiritual man is to have his abode with the Heavenly Spirit. It is not so much the man, as the addition to the man, which constitutes his high character and heavenly power. A spiritual man is not so much a man possessing a strong spiritual character as a man filled with the Holy Spirit. So the apostle says, “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you.”

The glory of the new creation, then, is not only that it recreates the human spirit, but also that it fits it for the abode of God Himself, and makes it dependent upon Him for its life, just as the flower is dependent upon the sun, and the child upon the mother. The highest spirituality, therefore, is the most utter helplessness, the most entire dependence, and the most complete possession by the Holy Spirit. The beautiful act of Christ in breathing upon His disciples, and imparting to them from His own lips the very Spirit that was already in Him, expressed in the most vivid manner the crowning glory of the new creation. When the Holy Spirit thus possesses us, He fills every part of our being. Our spirit is His central throne, our soul is under His control, and even our body becomes “the temple of the Holy Ghost.” We may be sanctified wholly, that is, in the whole man; and our whole “spirit, soul, and body preserved blameless unto the coming of Jesus Christ.”

The final stage of this glorious indwelling will be reached when the vision of Ezekiel is fulfilled, and the Spirit shall breathe into the resurrection body the life of glorious immortality. “And we shall be like Him when we shall see Him as He is.”

There are some lessons which we may learn from this picture and from the whole subject.

1. The lower is dependent upon the higher, and should be kept subordinate to it. Man’s physical frame was lifeless until his higher nature, the soul, entered it; and then he lived. So, still, our life is dependent upon our higher being; and life and health come not from below, but from above and from within. This is the essential principle of divine healing, founded as it is on the great law of creation, and expressed by Christ Himself in His answer to the tempter, about His own physical life and ours, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that passeth out of the mouth of God.”

Our higher spiritual nature should control the soul. Just as the soul is superior to the body, so the spirit should be predominant to the soul. The fatal defect of natural life is that the soul is predominant, and the natural mind controls both spirit and body. The cultivated Athenian, therefore, is just as much in the flesh as the brutal African savage. The true life is where the body and the soul are under the control of the spirit, and the spirit is under the control of the Holy Ghost, the indwelling Spirit and Life of God.

2. The beautiful figure of the breath and the air teaches us some practical lessons about the receiving of the Holy Spirit. It is a simple law of nature, that air always comes in to fill a vacuum. You can produce a draft at any time, by heating the air until it ascends, and then letting the cold air rush in to supply its place. Thus we can always be filled with the Holy Spirit by providing a vacuum. This breath is dependent upon exhausting the previous breath before you can inhale a fresh one. We must in like manner empty our hearts of the last breath of the Holy Spirit that we have received; for it becomes impure the moment we have received it, and we need a new supply to prevent spiritual asphyxia.

We must learn the secret of breathing out, as well as breathing in. Now the breathing in will continue if the other part is rightly done. One of the best ways to make room for the Holy Spirit is to recognize that the needs that come into the life as vacuums are for Him to fill. We will find plenty of needs all around us to be filled; and, as we pour out our lives in holy service, He will pour His Life in, in full measure.

A board of trustees once put a heating apparatus into a church, and then put in a furnace, and announced the opening service. But the church was as cold as a barn. The hot air would not come in, although the ducts were open and the fire burning at its hottest. An expert was called in, who quietly told them that while they had made provision for letting in the fresh air, they had made none for letting out the old air in the building, and that no fresh air could come in until the old air was expelled. As a result the people sat there shivering.

Thus some of us are shivering and wondering why the Holy Spirit does not fill us. We have plenty coming in, but we do not give it out. Give out the blessing you have; start larger plans for service and blessing. You will soon find that the Holy Ghost is before you, and that He will present you with blessings for goodness and will give you all that He can trust you to give away to others.

There is a beautiful fact in nature which has its spiritual parallels. There is no music so heavenly as that of an Eolian harp. This harp is nothing but a set of musical cords arranged in harmony, and then left to be touched by the unseen fingers of the wandering winds. As the breath of heaven floats over the chords, it is said that notes almost divine float out upon the air, as if a choir of angels were wandering around and touching the strings.

It is possible to keep our hearts so open to the touch of the Holy Spirit that He can play upon them at will. As we quietly wait in the pathway of His service, again and again the touch of hands unseen will wake the echoes, and the heavenly song will spring within the depths of our being, and we shall wonder at our strange gladness. But it is still the Eolian harp of a heart wholly consecrated and attuned to God, and under the touch and breathing of the Holy Ghost.

This is what it means, “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing.”