Posted by: rcottrill | August 1, 2016

My Father Watches Over Me

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Words: William Clark Martin (b. Dec. 25, 1864; d. Aug. 30, 1914)
Music: Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (b. Aug. 18, 1856; d. Sept. 15, 1932)

Wordwise Hymns (William Martin)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Born on Christmas Day, pastor and gospel song writer William Martin also gave us: My Anchor Holds, Still Sweeter Every Day, and The Name of Jesus (Is So Sweet). Charles Gabriel gave us dozens of songs, sometimes supplying both words and music, other times writing tunes for the words of others.

This was a difficult story to tell because it’s quite a long one, and many of the details are significant. Homer Rodeheaver takes twenty pages for it in his book, Song Stories of the Sawdust Trail, published in 1917, but I’ve tried to boil it down to the essentials.

How far down does a man have to go to hit rock bottom? And is there a way up again, if he does? Here’s the story of one who found out.

Robert Steele was an only child. His parents cared for their son in a material way, but his spiritual needs never entered their minds. The only time the boy heard about God was when his mother told him that if he didn’t behave God would punish him. He grew up fearing and hating this invisible Someone.

Dad was the bright spot in Bob’s life. He used to climb up on his dad’s knee, and the kindly man always had a stick of candy or some treat for his son. When Bob was fretful, his father would take his big gold watch out of his pocket and hold it to the boy’s ear, so he could hear the steady tick, tick, tick.

But those pleasant early years were to end, suddenly, and a downward spiral begin. Bob’s father was fatally injured at work. As he was dying, the man spoke weakly: “You like that watch, don’t you, son?” and young Bob replied, “Bet I do, Dad!” With that, the man gave the watch to him, then laid his head back on the pillow and passed into eternity.

In the years that followed, Bob’s mother remarried. The man not only treated the young man harshly but tried to take the gold watch for himself. His mother took her husband’s side and Bob, feeling no longer welcome, grabbed his watch and left. He eventually got work on the docks in Cleveland. There, when a man falsely accused him of theft, Bob hit him over the head with a shovel. The man wasn’t killed, but Bob spent three years in prison for that.

Upon his release, he joined a gang of hold-up men, and also began drinking heavily. From there, he went to Tennessee and partnered with a man who ran an illegal whiskey still. The operation was raided by revenue agents and other man was shot dead, but Bob escaped.

During these years, he’d married a girl named Jennie–who knew nothing about the illegal activities of the two men. A daughter was born to the couple, and they named her Jennie after her mom. For a time, Bob stopped drinking, but then started up again,  worse than ever. He even pawned his father’s gold watch to buy more liquor. As for Jennie, she finally had enough, and she left him, taking their daughter with her.

Bob later found himself in another town, drunk and hungry, feeling sick and hopeless. Rock bottom. Why not end it all? Suicide seemed the only way out. It was rainy and cold. Huddled in a doorway, he was thinking about taking his life when he saw a crowd gathering down the street. He asked what it was about, and was told people were heading to a meeting in a building nearby. He decided to go in  for awhile, just to get warm.

The large crowd was singing a song by William Martin. It reached into Bob’s very soul, even through a drunken haze.

For come what may, from day to day,
My heavenly Father watches over me.

Though he knew little of what the Bible teaches, he says, “All I could understand was that I had found a new Father, and that He had been looking for me for years.”

He got saved that night. And Bob had come to Christ at a meeting of evangelist Billy Sunday. With David he could say, “The Lord…brought me up out of a horrible pit” (Ps. 40:1-2). Afterward, telling his story to Sunday’s song leader, Homer Rodeheaver, he reached into a pocket and pulled out the gold watch. “Handsome, isn’t it?” he said with a grin.

And did the change in Bob’s life “stick”? Indeed it did. He went to see Jennie and told her all that had happened. She tearfully welcomed him into her arms, like the loving father did with his prodigal son (cf. Lk. 15:11-24). With the family restored, they invited Bob’s mother, who was alone again, to come and live with them. Little Jennie was taking piano lessons in those days, and the first song she learned to play was My Heav’nly Father Watches Over Me.

CH-1) I trust in God wherever I may be,
Upon the land, or on the rolling sea,
For come what may, from day to day,
My heav’nly Father watches over me.

I trust in God, I know He cares for me;
On mountain bleak or on the stormy sea;
Tho’ billows roll, He keeps my soul;
My heav’nly Father watches over me.

CH-3) I trust in God, for, in the lion’s den,
On battlefield, or in the prison pen,
Through praise or blame, through flood or flame,
My heav’nly Father watches over me.

CH-4) The valley may be dark, the shadows deep,
But O, the Shepherd guards His lonely sheep;
And through the gloom He’ll lead me home,
My heav’nly Father watches over me.

1) Do you personally know someone who, after hitting rock bottom in his or her life, was wonderfully saved?

2) Is there anything you can do to help those who are in such a desperate place?

Wordwise Hymns (William Martin)
The Cyber Hymnal


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