The Ninety And Nine
D.L. Moody and Ira Sankey were holding one of their famous meetings in the British Isles in 1874. They were on their way to Edinburgh, after being in Glasgow. Mr. Moody was engrossed in reading and answering his mail, and Mr. Sankey got bored. He bought a newspaper and began to read the latest American news. It was while reading this paper that he came across a poem that changed his day.
In a corner of the paper was a poem entitled the Ninety and Nine. Mr. Sankey read it and was so thrilled by it that he exclaimed to Mr. Moody, “This is just what I have been looking for, a shepherd’s hymn.” Mr. Moody was so engrossed in his mail that he didn’t even acknowledge Mr. Sankey’s statement. He dropped the subject, but not before he tore the poem out of the paper.
During that week of meetings, Dr. Horatius Bonar was asked to participate with Mr. Moody in the meeting. He spoke on the subject of the good shepherd. Mr. Sankey knew that he would be called upon to sing the invitation hymn at the end of the message. He was accustomed to picking a hymn that would correspond with the message preached, sometimes using hymns that he had written. He was puzzled for a while as to what song to sing. Although he knew hundreds of hymns, he could not come up with an appropriate one for this message. Some titles came to mind, so he searched his pockets for a scrap of paper to write them on. While searching for paper, his fingers felt the poem he had torn out of the paper a few days earlier. He was later to say, “A voice seemed to say to me, ‘Sing that hymn.’ ‘But I have no music,’ I replied. But again the voice insisted, ‘Sing that hymn!’ It was then that I heard Mr. Moody say, ‘And now Mr. Sankey will sing.’ I arose, went over and sat down at the organ. As I touched the keys, there came to me, note by note, the tune as it is sung today. I must admit that as I finished the first stanza I wondered if the melody would stay with me for the remaining stanzas, but God was good. Nothing changed, not a single note. When I had finished, Mr. Moody came and leaned over the little organ. I could see tears in his eyes and I heard him say, ‘Where in the world did you get that?’ At the moment I could not reply for to me, also, it had been an unusual experience.”
For some time the writer of that poem was not known. It was several years later that it was found that it had been written by 21-year-old Elizabeth Clephane, and also that she had died a couple years before it was printed. She was the daughter of a sheriff and a devoted Christian. She had a prodigal brother who she prayed for constantly and about whom she wrote the poem. We do not have any account of the brother ever coming to repentance.
--Al Smith’s “Hymn Histories”