Rose: Hymns – His Eye is On the Sparrow

Civilla D. Martin was born to James and Irene Harding in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1866. In 1891, she married a Methodist minister named John Geddes, but this marriage ended at some point, for she married Walter Martin, a Baptist minister, later. She went to school for several years for teaching but ended up having to remain home for poor health. She and her husband both loved music, and together they traveled for ministry. They appear to have had only one child, a son. In 1916, her husband began teaching at Atlantic Christian College in North Carolina. Three years later, they joined the Disciples of Christ there, though they later moved to Georgia. In the winter of 1935, Walter went to be with the Lord and she joined him thirteen years later. 

Over the years Civilla wrote many hymns, some of which were composed with her husband. Her most recognizable hymns are “God Will Take Care of You” and “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” written in 1905. This latter hymn was put to music by Charles Gabriel, a gospel hymn composer to thousands of songs. The former hymn was written in response to one of her bouts of sickness. The second was written when caring for a bedridden woman in New York. She asked the woman if she ever became discouraged since she clearly had many difficulties in life. The woman simply provided that since God cared for the sparrow, He would also care for her. And this is the message we also should take from this hymn: no matter our situation, our God cares for even the most helpless creatures, even us. 

Why should I feel discouraged?
Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely
and long for heaven and home,
when Jesus is my portion?
My constant friend is he:
his eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me;
his eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me.

I sing because I’m happy, (I’m happy)
I sing because I’m free, (I’m free)
for his eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me.

Like with most poetry, we have to dig farther than the initial line to find the point of the question. At first glance, we might come up with a list of reasons why we can feel discouraged, despondent, justifiably sad in our current situations. I know I can. Yet where does this verse lead us? It answers its own question: why should we feel joyless when Jesus is our portion? (Psa. 42, Lam. 3:21-24) Why should we feel hopeless when He is with us? Christ is our Savior, our promise, our constant friend (Pro. 18:24, Jhn. 15:13-14). And while these words might fall on resistant ears – for no one wants to be told his difficulties are minimal – this verse is actually an encouragement. Jesus is our constant friend, and we serve the God of all comfort (Psa. 62, Jhn. 14:27, 2 Cor. 1:3-5).  When we do feel despair, we know our hope is in Him, nothing less. 

Therefore, the hymn’s title comes into play: His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me (Psa. 17:7-9,  Matt. 6:25-34, 10:29-31). How do we know? Because He told us so! All things are held together by the Lord, and we are held in His hands (Col. 1:13-17). God cares for all of His creation, and He sent His Son down to die for us (Jhn. 3:16). How could we think that He has forgotten us in our time of need (Heb. 4:16, Psa. 8:3-5)? No, He has not forgotten us. We have no need to be sorrowful or to let the shadows cover our hearts, for we have a God who cares for our every need, who loves us. He does not neglect any other area of His creation, and He cares for us also. What have we to worry for? Now, if I were to change some lyrics, I would change happy to joyful, for we will not always be happy to sing, but a fruit of the Spirit is joy. However, joyful does not really rhyme with free

“Let not your heart be troubled,”
his tender word I hear, 
and resting on his goodness,
I lose my doubts and fears;
though by the path he leadeth
but one step I may see:
his eye is on the sparrow, 
and I know he watches me;
his eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me. 

We know from our own lives that God cares for us, and we know this truth from His Word. Christ also warns His disciples, and us, that there will be trouble in this world, yet Jesus also tells them to take heart (Jhn. 14:1&27, 16:33). Christ has overcome the world; He has defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil (Jhn. 16:33, Pro. 10:16, Rom. 6:23 8:1-2, Heb. 2:14-15). We have all this recorded in the Scriptures. Therefore, let us diligently read His Word and go to Him in prayer. In our times of trouble, these words will give us peace. If we rest on His word, in His love, we can have joy and peace in spite of fear (1 Jhn. 4:18, 2 Cor. 1:3-5). With Christ as the leader and guide of our lives, we trust in what we “see” or know: He cares even for the sparrows, and we know He watches us, His loved ones (Psa. 119:105, 18:33, 23:4, 1Pet. 5:7).   

Whenever I am tempted,
whenever clouds arise,
when song gives place to sighing,
when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to him;
from care he sets me free:
his eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me;
his eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me.

Yet we know that trials and temptations do arise. We know that despair will come and songs will cease. What do we do? Do we rely on ourselves? Do we trust in what we can accomplish on our own or hope by our own strength that we can have joy and peace? No, instead we rely on Christ and His promises. We turn to Him, drawing near to God and finding rest in Him alone (Psa. 42, 119:114, Jas. 4:8). When we look at the world and all that God has created, we see not only His handiwork but also His constant care.

God is at work in His creation always. In addition, we see His hand in our lives, keeping us steady, helping us up when we fall, comforting us in our time of need, strengthening us to do His will in this dark world (Psa. 28:7, 94:18, Isa. 40:10-11). Christ is our light to our path, and we know His eyes are upon us. He cares for even the smallest of His creation (Luk. 12:6-7, Rom. 15:13, 1Pet. 5:7). Moreover, He died for us. We can sing because we are free, resting and trusting in the arms of God.

Blessings to you and yours,

~Rose

 


Works Referenced

“Charles H. Gabriel.”

“Civilla D. Martin.”

“His Eye is on the Sparrow.”

“Walter Stillman Martin; Civilla Durfee Martin.”

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