His eye is on the Sparrow

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About the Hymn: His Eye Is On the Sparrow

Question 18 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: What are God’s works of providence?
Answer: God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to his own glory.

Our hymn focus this month is His Eye Is On the Sparrow by Civilla Martin and Charles Gabriel. Civilla Durfee Holden was born on August 21, 1866, in Jordan, Nova Scotia, Canada, to James and Irene Holden. Civilla grew up to become a school teacher, and taught in her native Canada before meeting her husband, Walter Stillman Martin. Walter was born in Rowley, Massachusetts, and would go on to attend Harvard University where he studied for the ministry, and was later ordained as a Baptist minister.

Walter and Civilla came together through a mutual interest in music, and after they were married, they traveled extensively doing evangelistic work in the northeast. In 1904, after they had been married a number of years, and were living at Practical Bible Training School in Johnson City, New York, Walter wrote the tune for one of her poems, God Will Take Care of You.

The story behind this now famous hymn goes that one Sunday, Walter was scheduled to preach in a town some distance from where him and his family lived. Civilla had recently become ill, and he was contemplating canceling his preaching engagement to tend to her. While it was being discussed, their nine year old daughter said, “Father, don’t you think that if God wants you to preach today, He will take care of Mother while you are away?” Walter ended up keeping that preaching engagement, and when he returned that evening, he found his wife feeling better.

Civilla wrote a poem based on her daughter’s faithful remark, and within an hour upon his return, Walter had written a melody for it. The song would go on to be included in the hymnbook Songs of Redemption, published in 1905, and compiled by Martin and John A. Davis. As popular as that hymn would go on to become, it would not be Civilla’s most prominent work. Just a short time later, she would go on to pen what would arguably become one of the most famous hymns written in the twentieth century, His Eye Is On the Sparrow.

The hymn was inspired by some friends of the Martin’s, the Doolittle’s of Elmira, New York, who by all accounts had every reason to be discouraged. For twenty years, Mrs. Doolittle had been confined to bed as an invalid. Her husband, a partial invalid, managed his business from a wheelchair.

As Civilla would later recall, the train ride to Elmira, New York, would be the most important trip she had ever taken. Upon her arrival, she attempted to cheer her friend anyway she knew how. She read the Bible to her, and prayed and talked openly with her about her debilitating condition. In the end though, it was Civilla who was the one encouraged, humbled, and deeply impressed by the joyful spirit that the Doolittle’s maintained in spite of their severe adversity. In her own words, she recalls what happened that day in Elmira:

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.

It only took a few minutes for Civilla to turn those words into the poem we know today as His Eye Is On the Sparrow. Walter tried writing music for the poem, but was never satisfied with it, so a short time later, he mailed it off to a composer friend of his in England, Charles Gabriel, who wrote the music and melody that we still sing today. Here are the lyrics she penned that we will be focusing on this month in our Sunday gatherings:

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.

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.

The hymn was sung publicly for the first time at Royal Albert Hall in England during the famous Torrey-Alexander revival in 1905. After it was sung in those revival meetings, the song quickly gained popularity and spread all over the world.

In 1916, the Martin family moved to Wilson, North Carolina, where Walter taught at Atlantic Christian College. In 1919, Walter served for a while on the staff at Standard Publishing, where he assisted in the production of the Christian Hymnal. Before the end of the year though, the family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where they continued their evangelistic work, teaching the Bible and sharing the good news of Jesus all throughout the country.

Walter Martin died on December 16, 1935, and his body was buried in the Westview Cemetery in the West End area of Atlanta, Georgia. Civilla Martin lived another thirteen years before she died on March 9, 1948. Her body was buried next to her husbands.

His Eye Is On the Sparrow is inspired by the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, referenced by Mrs. Doolittle:

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

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:29-31

It was these passages that gave Mrs. Doolittle so much hope and joy that particular day. God was not a passive observer to her, he was personally involved in every of her life, including the adversity she and her husband faced. The Lord gives us no promise of earthly comfort or safety. Hard times will come. We will suffer. We will die. Like the sparrow, we will fall. But, as the sparrow flies or falls only by the will and providence of its creator, so we also live, suffer, and die in his hand. He has promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20), to supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19), to limit our temptations and provide our escape (1 Corinthians 10:13), and to work trials for our good (James 1:2-4). He has promised, in the end, “the crown of righteousness…to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).

These are God’s works of providence: to carry us through, from beginning to end, in his hand. “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”

Christianity is the religion of the broken heart

by J. Gresham Machen

In saying that Christianity is the religion of the broken heart, we do not mean that Christianity ends with the broken heart; we do not mean that the characteristic Christian attitude is a continual beating on the breast or a continual crying of “Woe is me.” Nothing could be further from the fact. On the contrary, Christianity means that sin is faced once for all, and then is cast, by the grace of God, forever into the depths of the sea. The trouble with the paganism of ancient Greece, as with the paganism of modern times, was not in the superstructure, which was glorious, but in the foundation, which was rotten. There was always something to be covered up; the enthusiasm of the architect was maintained only by ignoring the disturbing fact of sin. In Christianity, on the other hand, nothing needs to be covered up. The fact of sin is faced squarely once for all, and is dealt with by the grace of God. But then, after sin has been removed by the grace of God, the Christian can proceed to develop joyously every faculty that God has given him. Such is the higher Christian humanism–a humanism founded not upon human pride but upon divine grace.

But although Christianity does not end with the broken heart, it does begin with the broken heart; it begins with the consciousness of sin. Without the consciousness of sin, the whole of the gospel will seem to be an idle tale. But how can the consciousness of sin be revived? Something no doubt can be accomplished by the proclamation of the law of God, for the law reveals transgressions. The whole of the law, moreover, should be proclaimed. It will hardly be wise to adopt the suggestion (recently offered among many suggestions as to the ways in which we shall have to modify our message in order to retain the allegiance of the returning soldiers) that we must stop treating the little sins as though they were big sins. That suggestion means apparently that we must not worry too much about the little sins, but must let them remain unmolested.

Christianity and Liberalism (Kindle Edition)

Casting Crowns – Glorious Day (Living He loved me)

Casting Crowns – Glorious Day (Living He loved me).

The effect on people by Jesus

by Tim Keller

The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.

~ The Prodigal God

Authentic Fellowship: A Powerful Ingredient for Freedom Living

by J. Chad Barrett

Something phenomenal is missing from many churches. I think that people are missing out on something. I think men in the Church especially are missing out on something.

Jesus came to deliver people, not to establish Himself in popularity and fame. Jesus died for people, not for a facility. Jesus is coming back for people, not for our extravagant local empires. The Church is people. Ministry is people.

I’m convinced that God has created something very special for His people that is very often misunderstood. I’m convinced this is what Christian men are missing.

I believe this special thing draws men, and it keeps men in the local church. It upholds men, enabling us to stand up tall when life pulls us down. It ties a tight bond around us that is permanent, and its bond is strong and thick. It protects. It never yields. It never fails. Its pillars are togetherness, not isolation; godly love, not hate; edification, not tearing down; individuality and unity, not legalism nor division.

It is deep, not shallow. Purposeful, not accidental. It’s a divinely bestowed phenomenon—impossible to accomplish without His power. But its foundation is theSavior, and its finishing touches are ultimate joyIts name is Fellowship, and we must have it. For without it, we will die. The joy, devotion, love, purity, integrity, passion for the gospel, passion for holiness, passion for grace and mercy, and passion for God will dry up, and we will die. The sad truth is that many of our churches already have, and they don’t even realize it.

But we don’t have fellowship because we don’t bring up the obvious about ourselves and deal with it together. We don’t talk about certain issues. We keep silent.

There are obvious things among all of us. We all have the same struggles—lust, desire for power, pride, inferiority complexes, and so on—but we don’t really talk about these things among the church.

When we’re at work, we bring up these topics. You don’t believe me? What do the jokes at your workplace usually involve? Should I make the list of struggles again? I’m willing to bet that the men at your place of employment often speak about lusting, their pride in their positions, and their inferiorities (even if it’s unintentional). And it’s not just because they like to entertain one another with jokes.

I’m convinced many of these are underlying confessions to find out whether or not they are alone in their battles. They realize these are battles because these things never produce the results they really want. These things never satisfy. And men end up feeling alone because they are alone—especially in the church.

In fact, Christian men may be more alone in their local churches than they are at their workplaces. We are individuals on the same road called life, but we are driving in our own lanes.

Where in scripture does God describe this wonderful and powerful ingredient for the Church called fellowship? One of my favorite passages that deals with this is in 1 John:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3, NKJV)

The Apostle John made his point that his letter was about fellowship (I’m convinced the theme verses are 1:3-4.). This wasn’t surface friendship, but authentic fellowship among him, the other apostles, and God.

Notice the pattern in verse 1: we have heard…seen…looked upon…handled. Each word used becomes more intense. John and the other apostles had heard the life (Jesus), they had seen Him, they had looked upon Him (literally, gazed intensely), and their hands have actually touched Him. No wonder these apostles had such an intense, intimate fellowship with God! They grew closer and closer to Jesus as they spent time with Him.

Can you imagine? They watched with awe the many miracles Jesus performed. Their eyes gazed upon Him at His transfiguration. They were glued to Him at His resurrection. They touched His glorified body. They witnessed His ascension!

All the while, they grew more in love with their Savior and more connected with each other. You can’t tell me in those 3½ years spent together these ordinary men weren’t exposed to authenticity among each other and with Jesus where they became intensely connected emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Yes, these men grew to love Jesus and to love each other.

The principle I get out of this pattern in 1 John is that biblical fellowship among men includes becoming real with brothers with whom we already have a friendship. And, together, we grow closer to our Father with whom we all have a relationship. There is the aspect of quality time spent with other brothers while being authentic, loyal, and committed to each other. The purpose of this time is to give to one another, share with one another, and participate in the lives of one another.

I believe John experienced biblical fellowship with Jesus because Jesus made it Hispriority to get into the lives of John and the other disciples. Authentic fellowship takes initiative. It’s only real when one understands that Church is people because it makes people a priority. Biblical fellowship is entering the life of another, and this allows our fellowship with God to become more intense, as well.

How would you be impacted if you were involved in this kind of fellowship with other godly men in your church?

. . . .

J. Chad Barrett is the author of Journey to Freedom, a book for guys about the beauty of biblical fellowship and its impact on the typical struggles men have. Chad is the Director ofChild Evangelism Fellowship of Greater Houston where his team currently reaches 10,000 children each year with the gospel. He lives with his wife Melissa and 4 children in Houston.

Blasphemy! If You Want the Congregation to Worship More, Try Singing Less

Thoughtful question by  at Itching Ears blog

Worship is fast becoming a topic we avoid at all costs.  Much like discussing politics, discussing worship preferences and style, the should and should nots, the rights and wrongs, is not polite conversation.  It can and has led to all out war.  Challenge the status quo and you may have the same charges leveled against you that they leveled against Jesus: “Blasphemy…He is worthy of death!”

I believe that most of the battle stems from a lack of understanding about what worship really is.  Many people mistakenly believe that worship is the singing of a song.  It isn’t.  Read the Bible from cover to cover and you will discover that far from simply singing songs, worship is a life laid down.  I wrote about this in an earlier post called “When Did Worship Become the Singing of a Song?”

Having been a corporate leader of singing for 20+ years, I know that singing songs to the Lord can be a vehicle that helps us lay our lives down.  It can also get in the way of doing that.  More and more, I think it is getting in the way, hindering true worship.  Of course, I haven’t been to your congregation.  I have visited 30+ church services over the past 3 years, in three different States.  Everywhere I’ve been, there seems to be a doubling down on singing.  To make more room for it, we have stripped the service of most everything else, except the sermon (which is getting shorter), the offering, and the blessed announcements!

But has this increase in singing led to a church that is increasingly laying its life down for the Savior outside the service?  I am talking about the big picture.  Are believers who live in North America, consistently laying down their lives more, picking up the cross more and following Jesus more, now that we sing so much? I think the answer is a loud NO.

So what is the answer?   Here’s my suggestion:  If you want the congregation to worship more, then……….. sing….. less. Instead of singing six songs with the band, sing three or four.  Use the extra 10-15 minutes to incorporate other elements into the corporate worship time.  What are some other elements that help us live for God outside of the gathering?  I’m glad you made it this far!

How about a time  of communion that actually explains the Gospel?  Or, the reading of an extended passage of scripture that supports the theme of the singing time, and authoritatively challenges us to live for God?  A well thought out, written before hand prayer of confession that the entire congregation says together?  All of those elements and many others, remind us of what is real, and what matters.

The point I am making is this: if we want the congregations we lead to lay their lives down (worship) more and more outside of the service, singing one more song, however well executed, is not getting the job done.  Many worship leaders mistakenly believe that if they just get better players, better gear, better singers, more time, THEN the congregation will sing more.  They may, but that shouldn’t be the goal.  If worship is not the singing of a song but rather, a life laid down, we need to focus on those elements that help the congregation live out their faith Sunday afternoon through Sunday morning.

Now, let the battle begin!

For more thoughts on worship, see our post titled: “So You Want the Congregation to Sing More?  Try this” or our series called “Worship Leader Make-Over”

Come and Die

by Jared Wilson at The Gospel Driven Church blog

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
— 2 Timothy 2:3

Have you ever seen a military recruitment poster or TV ad that showed wounded soldiers? Ever seen one that showed soldiers taking bullets, medics administering morphine to blood-gushing comrades, or an array of battle-hardened quadriplegics?

No, you have not. We recruit soldiers by showing shiny weapons, technologically advanced machines and systems, adventurous locales, and strong, healthy men and women using them, engaging in them, and bravely enjoying them.

But not Paul. He will not whitewash the mission. As Christ says, “Count the cost” and “Take up your cross” and “Die to self,” Paul’s recruitment slogan is: Share in suffering.

In 2 Timothy 2:7, he writes, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” He wants disciples of Jesus to consider what he’s just laid out for them, which is that Christianity is about suffering like a soldier, training like an athlete, and working hard like a farmer. One thing these three examples have in common is a stubborn commitment to a diligent daily grind for a payoff that is not instant or immediate.

“Think over what I say.” Mull this over. Consider this. Count the cost. So that when hardship comes — and as Gary Demarest says, “Following Christ causes problems” — you are not acting as if something strange is happening to you (1 Pet. 4:12). Instead, you have a vision of what will be, of the “eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10) that lay ahead.

When Shackleton advertised for recruits for his venture to Antarctica in 1914, he did it this way:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.

“When Christ bids a man,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “he bids him come and die.”

Ah, but then he lives! Really, truly lives. He can’t be stopped. There ain’t hardly nothing you can do to him.

We might rewrite Shackleton’s ad thusly:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition guaranteed.

Come and die (and live!).