Posted by: rcottrill | January 25, 2016

Pass It On

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Words: Henry Burton (b. ___, 1840; d. _____, 1930)
Music: George Coles Stebbins (b. Feb. 26, 1846; d. Oct. 6, 1945)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (Henry Burton)

Note: Henry Burton was an English clergyman, though he did spend some years in America receiving training. I encourage you to read the absolutely remarkable story on the Wordwise Hymns link, of how this song came to be written.

The expression “pay it forward” was popularized by a 2000 Hollywood film, but it’s actually an old concept. It was used in a Greek play, in 317 BC, and can be found in the writings of Benjamin Franklin, and others.

The idea is this: rather than trying to pay back someone who has done you a favour, pass the benefit on to others, thus paying it forward. There are a number of positive principles in that–principles that are also found in the Bible. Let’s consider four of them, briefly.

First, there is the principle of grace. In the Greek language of the New Testament, that’s related to the word for gift. Grace represents a blessing given without expected payment. That so dominates the character of God that He is called “the God of all grace” (I Pet. 5:10). In saving sinners, God is gracious, because we have nothing by which to adequately pay Him back. No good deed or church ritual will do it. Only God can save sinners, as a gift of His grace (Eph. 2:8-9).

At the human level, gift-giving is ideally an exercise of grace. We don’t expect payment for a gift–or it wouldn’t be a true gift. And when someone blesses our lives, helping us in some way, they may even be a little insulted if we try to pay for it! It’s not, “The Smiths had us over for dinner, so now we have to have them over!” No, it shouldn’t work that way. That is often simply a manifestation of pride.

Second is the principle of thankfulness. While we can’t pay for a gift, we can express appreciation for it. Believers do that to God when we thank Him for His blessings. And because God’s gracious gifts will never come to an end (Eph. 2:7), we’ll be thanking Him for all eternity. “Thanksgiving and honour and power and might, be to our God forever and ever” (Rev. 7:12). At the human level, we can and should show gratitude to those who are good to us (Phil. 1:3). Rather than attempt to pay back the giver of a gift, a sincere thank you is appropriate.

Third comes the principle of responsibility. Whatever we are given, we are responsible to use wisely and well. This gets us to the pay-it-forward idea. The Bible tells us that God’s gifts are a stewardship, something we’ve been entrusted with, and stewards should be faithful in their care of what is entrusted to them (I Cor. 4:2). “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another [i.e. serve one another], as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (I Pet. 4:10). What we are given we are called upon to put to good use.

Finally, there is the principle of multiplication. Like the expanding ripples on a pond when we throw in a stone, the good we do to others will continue to pay dividends in their lives, and in the lives of others they touch in turn. In the Bible, the teaching of God’s Word is seen that way. The Apostle Paul says, “The things that you have heard from me…commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (II Tim. 2:2). Keep the process going!

In the day-to-day world, grace and goodness are sometimes in short supply. More often the motivating concept is: “What will I get out of this?” Politicians dispense favours with a view to winning more votes. Stores offer bargains to try to bring in more customers who will spend their money there. But, think for a moment. What would our communities be like if each of us daily looked for ways we could benefit others–freely, and without seeking selfish advantage–with the blessings we’ve received?

Henry Burton gave us a fine gospel song in 1885, based on the pay-it-forward principle. It says:

1) Have you had a kindness shown? Pass it on!
‘Twas not given for thee alone: pass it on!
Let it travel down the years,
Let it wipe another’s tears,
Till in heaven the deed appears: pass it on!

2) Did you hear the loving word? Pass it on!
Like the singing of a bird? Pass it on!
Let its music live and grow,
Let it cheer another’s woe;
You have reaped what others sow–pass it on!

4) Have you found the heavenly light? Pass it on!
Souls are groping in the night, daylight gone;
Hold thy lighted lamp on high,
Be a star in some one’s sky:
He may live who else would die—pass it on!

1) Have you had a special kindness shown to you this week?

2) What blessing received have you used to bless another person this week?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (Henry Burton)


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