Posted by: rcottrill | August 21, 2010

Today in 1866 – Civilla Martin Born

Civilla Durfee Martin was born in Nova Scotia, Canada. She taught school for several years, then married American evangelist and Bible teacher Walter Martin. With her musical gifts, she was a great support to him in his ministry, and they collaborated on the writing of a number of gospel songs. She wrote the texts and he wrote the tunes for: God Will Take Care of You, and The Old-Fashioned Way. For her song His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Charles Gabriel supplied the tune.

It was apparently a comment by Civilla’s son that led to the writing of one of these. She had taken sick, and was unable to accompany her husband to a preaching appointment. He hesitated to leave her alone. But their young son encouraged her with, “Don’t worry, Mother, God will take care of you.” Before Walter Martin returned that evening in 1904 she had written the words for a gospel song. He read them over, then sat down at their little Bilhorn organ and composed the tune for the encouraging song, God Will Take Care of You.

It is a good hymn. However, the third line of Stanza 3 must surely be qualified. (It is, in the first line of the verse, but the connection may not be clear.) Nothing we ask in prayer that is in accord with the will of God will be denied us. But sometimes we are like naive children, asking for things that would be hurtful to us or others. Aren’t you glad that our loving Father denies us such things? (When I am leading the singing, I usually have the congregation skip this stanza.)

All you may need He will provide,
God will take care of you;
Nothing you ask will be denied,
God will take care of you.

Graphic SparrowAnother song of Civilla Martin’s came in 1905 from the comment of a friend. She and her husband were visiting a Mr. And Mrs. Doolittle in Elmira, New York. She had been bedridden for nearly 20 years, and her husband was wheelchair-bound. But the godly couple continued to have a joyful, positive outlook. When Walter Martin asked their secret, Mrs. Doolittle replied, simply, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

It is a reference to the words of Jesus. “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will….[“not one of them is forgotten by God,” Lk. 12:6] Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29, 31). The song that resulted from this encounter was later made famous by converted actress and legendary blues singer, Ethel Waters. She even entitled her autobiography, His Eye Is on the Sparrow.

Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely
And long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion?
My constant Friend is He;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Ethel Waters was one of the greats of the Jazz Age. A child born to a 12-year-old rape victim, she made a profession of faith in her younger years, but got caught up in the worldly ways of the entertainment business, and was known for her foul temper–until the Lord got hold of her life at a Billy Graham Crusade in 1957. God totally transformed her. (Originally, I had a later version of Ethel singing His Eye Is on the Sparrow–which became her signature song, but YouTube had to pull it, for copyright reasons. You can hear her singing a bit of it in the movie The Member of the Wedding.)

I want to add a word about the song The Old-Fashioned Way as well. Christians can so easily become enamoured with new teachers, new methods, new fads–and sometimes new doctrines. Churches too quickly abandon the old for fear of being labeled “old-fashioned.” As a result, in some services, the preaching and exposition of the Word of God has taken a back seat to spectacle, music, drama, with sermonettes rooted more in pop psychology than in the Scriptures. This song, written in 1914, still has a message for us.

They call me old-fashioned because I believe
That the Bible is God’s holy Word,
That Jesus, who lived among men long ago,
Is divine, and the Christ of God.

My sin was old-fashioned,
My guilt was old-fashioned,
God’s love was old-fashioned, I know;
And the way I was saved was the old-fashioned way,
Through the blood that makes whiter than snow.

Old-fashioned, because I believe and accept
Only what has been spoken from heav’n;
Old-fashioned because at the cross I was saved,
At the cross had my sins forgiv’n. 

(2) Welcome, Happy Morning (Data Missing)
This resurrection hymn was written by Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus, of whom we know little. He was born around AD 530, and died in about AD 609. Venantius was an important Latin poet of his day. He eventually invested this talent in the service of God, and later became Bishop of Poitiers, in Gaul. He wrote many hymns.

Welcome, Happy Morning was translated into English by John Ellerton in 1868. I am most familiar with Frances Havergal’s tune Hermas being used with it, though other tunes work as well. You can hear each of them on the Cyber Hymnal.

“Welcome, happy morning!” age to age shall say:
“Hell today is vanquished, heav’n is won today!”
Lo! the dead is living, God forevermore!
Him, their true Creator, all His works adore!

Maker and Redeemer, life and health of all,
Thou from heaven beholding human nature’s fall,
Of the Father’s Godhead true and only Son,
Mankind to deliver, manhood didst put on.

Thou, of life the Author, death didst undergo,
Tread the path of darkness, saving strength to show;
Come, then True and Faithful, now fulfil Thy Word;
’Tis Thine own third morning; rise, O buried Lord!

Loose the souls long prisoned, bound with Satan’s chain;
All that now is fallen raise to life again;
Show Thy face in brightness, bid the nations see;
Bring again our daylight: day returns with Thee!


  1. Thanks Robert for yor visit to Ruthlace and the introduction to your interesting and great Web Log. I added it to my Favorites. God bless you.

    • Thanks for your kind response. Let’s keep on keeping on for Him.

  2. His Eye Is On The Sparrow is a very popular hymn today especially among the African-Americans. It’s interesting to note that the author was a Canadian.

    Here’s a piano rendition:

    • Thanks. And yes, Martin was born in Canada. I want to do a blog some day soon on Canadian hymns, or ones that have some kind of Canadian connection. The list is quite long!

  3. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  4. I grew up in Atlanta,Ga. and graduated from Brown High School therre in the late 1950s. Mrs. Civilla Martin’s son Mr. A.G. Martin was the Principal of my high school. He had been principal ever since it opened its doors as a Jr. High School in 1923. The school choir sang his parents song to him when he retired in 1957. My parents are also buried in West View cemetary as well as the Martins and many famous people. It is the largest cemetary in the south and the school where Mr. Martin was Principal is nearby.

    • Thanks for the personal reminiscence. It helps us to get more background on hymns and their authors. God bless. Drop by any time. 🙂

      • Hymns these days are losing a spiritual sense. As we read such biographies we can feel the heart of those who [since] went to be with Him in heaven. They are precious hymns, and they give a clear sense of spiritual life.

  5. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  6. I was intrigued by this Biography. My name is Civilla Amoruso and I googled my name because it is such an unusual name-in fact I think As a first name I am the only Civilla in the United States. I am honored to share Civilla Martins name. I too am a Christian and my father was a teacher, musician, and conductor born the same day as Civilla Martin.

    My father Joseph Amoruso was born August 21, 1919-died February 3, 2007. My Mother Alice Cheffers Mothers name was Civilla . My grandmother Civilla died in childbirth having fraternal twins around 1923. Civilla my grandmother was a mystery- we didn’t know her relatives or how she got the name Civilla. Some supposed relatives with the last name of Denniger-not sure had relatives with this first name too- German Ancestry I believe. I was born in Chicago Illinois and now I am living in California.

    Thank you for letting me share my name and story with you. I feel inspired musically to actually get serious about learning how to play the piano- a lifetime dream that passed me by. Ironically I bought a keyboard for my Big 60 in November. This gift can only come from Above- Hopefully its not too late- but again I share Civillas name and like her my Dad was gifted musically. I feel inspired from above 🙂 Civilla Alice Amoruso

    • Thanks for your interesting story. Yes, it is an unusual name that you share with the hymn writer. I’m delighted that you also share Civilla’s Christian faith. God bless.

  7. I have been a pastor in Elmira, NY since 1966. Lost in local history are Civilla and Walter Martin who lived in Canton, Pa. And their visit to their friends the Doolittles in Elmira. Very few in this community know how this song came to be. Only recently I discovered the story of the Martins, and identity of the Doolittles who lived 2 blocks from our church. Cheerful while she was bedridden for 20 years, and he wheelchair bound for years, yet managed to push himself to his place of business 4 blocks away. The 12 words “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” This story of faith and cheerfulness will preach!
    And I intend to.

    • Thanks so much for your interesting note. I love to hear of various connections people have with past history. I visited a woman in a nursing home one time (this is in Western Canada) and discovered that she was related to Jimmy Doolittle, famous for the Doolittle Raid on Japan in the Second World War. I don’t suppose the Doolittles connected with the hymn are any relation, but it’s possible. Also, after a century, it’s a long shot, but I wondered if there’s anyone in the area related to those dear folk who would have a picture of them. I’d be delighted to put it on the blog, if one is available. God bless you–and, you’re right, “That’ll preach!”


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