Behind the Song: His Eye Is On the Sparrow
One day in 1905, Mrs. Civilla Martin visited a friend that was bedridden. Concerned for her friend she asked her how she dealt with discouragement. The friend replied, “Mrs. Martin, how can I be discouraged when my Heavenly Father watches over each little sparrow and I know he loves and cares for me.” Hearing these words Mrs. Martin immediately put the lyrics to this popular hymn onto paper.
The experience is even better shared in Mrs. Martin’s own words:
“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 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.”
Mrs. Martin was further inspired by two Bible verses found in the book of Matthew. The first is: “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).
The second is: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).
Mrs. Martin gave her lyrics to composer Charles H. Gabriel. He composed the music to this popular hymn.
Ethel Waters, a popular gospel soloist of the early 20th Century, often sang this hymn and helped increase the popularity. When Ethel Waters wrote her autobiography, she decided to name her memoirs His Eye Is On the Sparrow.