Hymn Story: The Ninety and Nine

Jesus told the parable of the shepherd who left his ninety-nine sheep to go after the one lost sheep. {Luke 15:3-7}

Elizabeth Clephane lived in Melrose, Scotland during the 19th Century.  She was an invalid and wrote the hymn, based on the parable, to help children remember the truths of Jesus’s words.

Elizabeth Clephane

The text to her poem appeared in the newspaper, where it caught the attention of Ira Sankey, who was the music director for evangelist Dwight L. Moody.

Sankey was on his way to Edinburgh, Scotland, for an evangelistic meeting when he saw the poem.  He “tucked the poem in his vest pocket and thought no more of it”.

That afternoon as Rev. Moody concluded his message, he turned to Ira Sankey and “abruptly” asked that he sing an “appropriate solo”.

Sankey, remembering the poem in his pocket, pulled it out and quickly prayed for “divine help”.  He walked to his “little pump organ”, struck the chord of A flat and began to sing.  As he sung the song, in front of a live audience, he composed the melody on the spot as he sung.

By the time Ira Sankey finished the song, “both he and Mr. Moody were in tears”.  That evening, many responded to the call to give their life to Christ.

During their tour, the evangelistic duo held a service in Melrose, Scotland.  In the audience were the two sisters of Elizabeth Clephane. Imagine their delight and surprise, as they heard their dearly departed sister’s words sung by the famed Ira Sankey.

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