I’m sure I am not the only one to have a bird build a nest and take up residence on or near your front door. Peeking into the nest I saw these beautiful little eggs and immediately thought of the old hymn, His Eye is on the Sparrow.
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Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted October 2009 with better photos and additional information.
His Eye is on the Sparrow
This song was originally written in 1905 by lyricist, Civilla Durfee Martin and composer Charles H. Gabriel.
About the writer of the hymn, His Eye is on the Sparrow
Civilla Durfee Martin was born in Nova Scotia in 1866 and spent most of her life in Atlanta, GA where she died in 1948. She was the daughter of James N. and Irene Harding Holden, and was a schoolteacher with modest musical training. Together with her husband, Walter (1862-1935), they often wrote gospel songs for revival meetings.
After writing the lyrics to this song, Civilla mailed them to Charles Gabriel, who worked for a gospel music publisher in Chicago, who then wrote a tune for it.
The theme of His Eye is on the Sparrow
The theme of the song is inspired by the words of David in the Psalms and Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible.
“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye (Psalm 32:8)
“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 6:26
Civilla shares an account of this story in 1916…
It was written at the bedside of a bedridden saint in the city of Elmira, N.Y. Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning there. 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 wheel chair.
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 reply 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. – Civilla Martin
Additional Scripture that inspired His Eye is on the Sparrow is from Matthew 6:26 – 31.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.
If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
His Eye is on the Sparrow – The Wissmann Family
Artists that have recorded this song
His is Eye is on the Sparrow is most associated with actress-singer Ethel Waters who used the title for her autobiography.
Mahalia Jackson’s recording of the song was honored with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2010.
Whitney Houston recorded a version for the soundtrack of the 2012 remake of the 1976 musical film Sparkle. RCA Records released the song as the second single from the album on June 8, 2012, four months after Houston’s death. This version is Houston’s last original single, and second posthumous one.
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