Story Behind the Hymn: HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW
Matthew 10:29-31 (KJV), “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.”
Marriages tend to work especially well when husband and wife have shared interests—and even more so if their shared interests have a creative bent. That was the case for Walter Stillman Martin (1862-1935) and his wife, Civilla (1866-1948). They had been drawn to each other, in large measure, because of their shared interest in music and their shared faith.
That turned out to be a blessing for the church, because the Martins wrote a number of hymns, some of which became quite well known. “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” is one of those. “God Will Take Care of You” is another. Civilla wrote the words, and Walter set her words to music.
Jesus’ words provide the background for this hymn. He said:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.”
But the immediate inspiration came from a woman with a chronic illness. Civilla visited her, and was struck by the difficulties that were such a regular part of the woman’s life. Civilla asked her if she ever got discouraged. The woman responded with a question of her own, “How could I be discouraged?” She said that she knew that God loves every sparrow, and felt certain that God loved her—and would take care of her.
Inspired by this woman’s faith, Civilla went home and wrote this song.
This song has always been a favorite of mine since I have been saved. I remember many years ago when I met Dr. John Wells of Altoona, PA for the first time. It was at the annual Sayler’s Creek re-enactment. He came by where we were setting up for church. Another longtime friend, Mark Meadows was playing our field, pump organ. John offered to sing for our service if we could use him. When he opened his mouth and that baritone voice burst forth, we were all captivated and blessed.
On that occasion he did not sing “His Eye IS On The Sparrow” but for the last 25 years he has blessed us at re-enactment church services, wherever we are, with his rendition of “His Eye Is On The Sparrow”.
I had heard that this hymn was an African-American spiritual—and was surprised to learn otherwise. I think the assumption might have been made because Ethel Waters, an African-American woman, sang this song in a number of Billy Graham’s crusades. Her spirited rendition touched people’s hearts worldwide. I have been told that this hymn has also become a staple of African-American worship.