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Sacred Song Story: His Eye Is on the Sparrow



By Cheryl Arnold


Our choral anthem for this Sunday is His Eye Is on the Sparrow, written by Civilla Martin in 1905. Civilla was married to Walter Stillman Martin, an evangelist who led revival meetings around the country. Civilla and Walter wrote the lyrics and music for some of the hymns they used in their services, and she later told the story of how this hymn came to be written.


“Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle—true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheelchair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy, Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the


secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s response was simple: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn ‘His eye is on the sparrow’ was the outcome of that experience.”


Mrs. Doolittle’s explanation for her faith is a reference to two scripture passages. Matthew 6:26 says, “Look at the birds of the air: they

neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Matthew 10:29-31 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7 is a parallel passage to Matthew 10.)


When writing the lyrics, Civilla also quoted John 14:1 in the first line of the second stanza. John 14:1 says, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.”


Civilla and Walter were dissatisfied with their own attempts to add music to the lyrics, so they sent the lyrics to Charles H. Gabriel, a well-known writer of gospel songs. He wrote the melody, and the song has been widely sung and recorded ever since then. It is a song of comfort and encouragement, reminding us of God’s compassion and tender care for 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 sing because I'm free,

For His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He watches me.


"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.


I sing because I'm happy,

I sing because I'm free,

For His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He watches me.


Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,

When songs give 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.


I sing because I'm happy,

I sing because I'm free,

For His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He watches me.



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