Home History of Hymns: “God Will Take Care of You”

History of Hymns: “God Will Take Care of You”

Civilla D. Martin

Civilla D. Martin

“God Will Take Care of You”
by Civilla D. Martin;
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 130.

Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
beneath his wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.
God will take care of you,
through every day, o’er all the way;
he will take care of you,
God will take care of you.

Civilla Durfee Martin (1866-1948) was born in Nova Scotia and died in Atlanta, Georgia. Martin was the daughter of James N. and Irene Harding Holden. She was a schoolteacher with a modest musical training. She and her husband, Walter Stillman Martin (1862-1935), often wrote gospel songs for revival meetings. “God Will Take Care of You” is an example of their collaboration.

Walter Stillman Martin (1862-1935) was a Baptist minister who received his education at Harvard. He later became a member of the Disciples of Christ, teaching at Atlantic Christian College (Now Barton College) in Wilson, North Carolina, and, before moving to Atlanta in 1919, a location that became the base for revivals that he held throughout the United States.

Civilla Martin also penned the text of “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” (1905), set to music by the well-known gospel song composer Charles Gabriel (1856-1932), and made famous by Ethel Waters (1896-1977) in the play “The Member of the Wedding” (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsTVF-uc1u4) and later as a part of the Billy Graham Crusades (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAmSTWcja0M). Another hymn by the Martins, “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” (1912), seems to have inspired Andraé Crouch (1942-2015) and his composition by the same name in 1962.

“God Will Take Care of You” (1904) has its own power, however, and is known throughout the world. Hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck describes the background of the hymn’s composition:

“It was composed while the Martins were spending several weeks as guests at the Practical Bible Training School at Lestershire, New York, where Mr. Martin was involved in helping the president of the school, John A. Davis, prepare a songbook. The Reverend W. Stillman Martin, a well-known Baptist evangelist, was invited to preach at a church some distance from the Bible school. That Sunday morning, Mrs. Martin became suddenly ill, making it impossible for her to accompany her husband to his speaking engagement. Mr. Martin seriously considered cancelling his speaking assignment, since it would be needful for him to be gone from her for a considerable time. Just then, however, their young son spoke up and 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 Martin preached that Sunday and returned that evening to find his wife much improved. In fact, while he had been gone, she prepared a new text that was inspired by their son’s statement just before her husband left that morning. Before retiring to bed that evening, Walter wrote the music to his wife’s text. Civilla Martin describes the composition:

“’God will take care of you’ was written on Sunday afternoon while my husband went to a preaching appointment. When he returned, I gave the words to him. He immediately sat down to his little Bilhorn organ and wrote the music. That evening, he and two of the teachers sang the completed song. It was then printed in the songbook he was compiling for the school.”

That songbook appears to have been Songs of Redemption and Praise (1905), compiled by Walter Martin and the President of the school, John Davis.

While Mrs. Martin may have been inspired by her son’s observation on that Sunday morning, it is quite possible that she was also aware of other texts with the phrase “God will take care of you” as well. Gospel hymn writer Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) had written a text with music composed by musical evangelist Ira D. Sankey (1840-1908). This composition appeared in 1890, fourteen years before the Martins composed their song. Then, British hymn writer Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) also composed a text that began with the same line. The complete first line of this hymn, “God will take care of you all thro’ the day,” bears a striking resemblance to Martin’s refrain, “God will take care of you, Thru every day . . ..”

Though the hymns by Fanny Crosby and Frances Havergal may have been familiar to Civilla Martin’s, her composition is distinct. All of them may have been inspired by a common passage of Scripture, I Peter 5:7: “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (KJV) . Furthermore, writers of gospel song texts often borrowed phrases from one another as starting points for their own work. Like so many songs from this genre, the key phrase “God will take care of you” and its variant, “He will take care of you,” are sung often. In this case, if you sang all four stanzas and the refrain, you would sing the title twenty times!

For the complete text see http://www.hymnary.org/text/be_not_dismayed_whateer_betide

C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.