It was in the year 1874 that the poem, ”The Ninety and Nine,” was discovered, set to music, and sent out upon its world-wide mission. Its discovery seemed as if by chance, but I cannot regard it otherwise than providential. Mr. Moody had just been conducting a series of meetings in Glasgow, and I had been assisting him in his work as director of the singing. We were at the railway station at Glasgow and about to take the train for Edinburgh, whither we were going upon an urgent invitation of ministers to hold three days of meetings there before going into the Highlands. We had held a three months' series in Edinburgh just previous to our four months' campaign in Glasgow. As we were about to board the train I bought a weekly newspaper, for a penny. Being much fatigued by our incessant labors at Glasgow, and intending to begin work immediately upon our arrival at Edinburgh, we did not travel second- or third-class, as was our custom, but sought the seclusion and rest which a first-class railway carriage in Great Britain affords. In the hope of finding news from America I began perusing my lately purchased newspaper. This hope, however, was doomed to disappointment, as the only thing in its columns to remind an American of home and native land was a sermon by Henry Ward Beecher.
I threw the paper down, but shortly before arriving in Edinburgh I picked it up again with a view to reading the advertisements. While thus engaged my eyes fell upon a little piece of poetry in a corner of the paper. I carefully read it over, and at once made up my mind that this would make a great hymn for evangelistic work—if it had a tune. So impressed was I that I called Mr. Moody's attention to it, and he asked me to read it to him. This I proceeded to do with all the vim and energy at my command. After I had finished I looked at my friend Moody to see what the effect had been, only to discover that he had not heard a word, so absorbed was he in a letter which he had received from Chicago. My chagrin can be better ”imagined than described. Notwithstanding this experience, I cut out the poem and placed it in my musical scrap-book—which, by the way, has been the seed plot from which sprang many of the Gospel songs that are now known throughout the world.
At the noon meeting on the second day, held at the Free Assembly Hall, the subject presented by Mr. Moody and other speakers was ”The Good Shepherd.” When Mr. Moody had finished speaking he called upon Dr. Bonar to say a few words. He spoke only a few minutes, but with great power, thrilling the immense audience by his fervid eloquence. At the conclusion of Dr. Bonar's words Mr. Moody turned to me with the question, ”Have you a solo appropriate for this subject, with which to close the service? ”I had nothing suitable in mind, and was greatly troubled to know what to do. The Twenty-third Psalm occurred to me, but this had been sung several times in the meeting. I knew that every Scotchman in the audience would join me if I sang that, so I could not possibly render this favorite psalm as a solo. At this moment I seemed to hear a voice saying: ”Sing the hymn you found on the train! ”But I thought this impossible, as no music had ever been written for that hymn. Again the impression came strongly upon me that I must sing the beautiful and appropriate words I had found the day before, and placing the little newspaper slip on the organ in front of me, I lifted my heart in prayer, asking God to help me so to sing that the people might hear and understand. Laying my hands upon the organ I struck the key of A flat, and began to sing.
Note by note the tune was given, which has not been changed from that day to this. As the singing ceased a great sigh seemed to go up from the meeting, and I knew that the song had reached the hearts of my Scotch audience. Mr. Moody was greatly moved. Leaving the pulpit, he came down to where I was seated. Leaning over the organ, he looked at the little newspaper slip from which the song had been sung, and with tears in his eyes said: ”Sankey, where did you get that hymn? I never heard the like of it in my life. ”I was also moved to tears and arose and replied: ”Mr. Moody, that's the hymn I read to you yesterday on the train, which you did not hear. ”Then Mr. Moody raised his hand and pronounced the benediction, and the meeting closed. Thus ”The Ninety and Nine” was Born.
A short time afterward I received, at Dundee, a letter from a lady who had been present at the meeting, thanking me for having sung her deceased sister's words. From correspondence that followed I learned that the author of the poem was Elizabeth C. Clephane, a resident of Melrose, Scotland, one of three sisters, all members of a refined Christian family. She was born in Edinburgh in 1830. Her sister, in describing Elizabeth, says: ”She was a very quiet little child, shrinking from notice and always absorbed in books. The loss of both parents, at an early age, taught her sorrow. As she grew up she was recognized as the cleverest of the family. She was first in her class and a favorite with the teacher. Her love for poetry was a passion. Among the sick and suffering she won the name of ' My Sunbeam.' She wrote ' The Ninety and Nine' for a friend, who had it published in ' The Children's Hour.' It was copied from thence into various publications, but was comparatively little noticed. She died in 1869."
When Mr. Moody and I returned from England, in 1875, we held our first meeting on a Sunday afternoon in front of the old Congregational church in the village of Northfield, Massachusetts, Mr. Moody's home. On reaching the church we found it overflowing, and more people surrounding the church outside than were inside. Mr. Moody, when entering the pulpit, said: ”I always speak to the largest crowd, and as it is outside, I will speak from the front of the church. ”The congregation retired to the open air, and the small cabinet organ was carried to a position on a small porch in front of the church, where it was placed with just room enough for me to take my seat. After a few of the congregational hymns had been sung, Mr. Moody announced that I would sing ”The Ninety and Nine. ”Nearly opposite the church, across the river, a man was seated on his porch. He had refused to attend the service in the village, and was quite angry because his family and neighbors had all gone to the meeting. But the singing of this song reached him, and two weeks later he attended a prayer meeting at a small school-house near his home, where he rose and said that he had heard a song which greatly troubled him, sung by Mr. Sankey at the meeting held in the open air at Northfield, and that he wished the Christians to pray for him. This they did, and he became converted. He then removed to Northfield and joined Mr. Moody in his work in connection with the schools, where he continued for many years. On the occasion of laying the corner-stone for the new Congregational church in Northfield, Mr. Moody asked me to stand on the corner-stone and sing ”The Ninety and Nine ”without the organ accompaniment, as he hoped that this church would be one whose mission it would be to seek the lost ones. While I was singing, Mr. Caldwell, the man who had heard the song across the river, lay dying in his cottage near Mr. Moody's home. Calling his wife to his bedside, he asked her to open the south window, as he thought he heard singing. Together they listened to the same song which had been used to lead him into the way of life. In a little while he passed away to join the Shepherd in the upper fold.
At the close of our meetings at Newcastle-on-Tyne one of the most efficient workers in connection with our services, Mrs. Claphin, decided to go to the Continent for a season of rest. When passing through London she purchased a large number of the penny edition of ”Sacred Songs and Solos, ”for distribution on the way. At the Grand Hotel, in Paris, she left a number of them on the reading-table, with a prayer for God's blessing upon those who might find them there. A few weeks later she visited Geneva, Switzerland, and while attending a prayer-meeting there one evening, the minister of the church told a touching story about a young English lady, who was a member of his church. She had received a letter from a long lost brother, who was ill at the Grand Hotel in Paris.
The young lady asked her physician if he would allow her to go to see her brother. The physician said: ”You will die if you do. ”She replied: ”I will die if I don't. ”A few days later she started for Paris, and on reaching the Grand Hotel she was taken to the room where her dying brother lay. After a warm greeting he took from under the pillow a copy of ”Sacred Songs and Solos, ”and pointing to ”The Ninety and Nine, ”said:” This hymn was the means of bringing me to Christ. ”Mrs. Claphin, who was in the audience and heard this story related, thanked God for having put it into her heart to distribute the little hymn-books.
A friend sends me the following: ”One day I was talking with a woman of the most abandoned sort, who had hardened her heart by many years of drunkenness and sin. Nothing I could say made any impression on her. When I was about to give up, our old Scotch cook, who was fond of poetry, began to sing:
She was in the kitchen, and was not aware that any one was within hearing. Her rich Scotch brogue lent charm to the verse, and it seemed a message from God. For the poor woman to whom I had been talking, and who was so hardened a moment before, burst into tears, and falling on her knees, began to pray to the Good Shepherd to receive her. She was converted, and has often testified to the fact that the song led her to Christ."
Mr. Blane, of South Africa, relates: ”I knew a young man who was the only unconverted member of his family. At home he was constantly hearing of Christ, and being asked to accept him as his Saviour. He determined to rid himself of all home restraint, and to enjoy himself by making a tour of the Continent. He set out, and for some time all went well. At one of the hotels at which he stayed there was an old Christian woman. As was her constant habit, having first obtained the consent of the proprietor, she went from room to room, leaving upon the table of each a little tract or book. She entered this young man's room, and with a prayer to God for guidance, took out a small copy of Sankey's hymns, opening it at the one beginning,
In the shelter of the fold.'
Mr. Thomas Leigh, of Liverpool, who assisted in our meetings in that city, writes me as follows: ”At your first mission in Liverpool an old man, between seventy and eighty, was converted through your singing 'There were ninety and nine.' He lived for a number of years afterward, and was a bright worker and gave a clear testimony. During the remainder of his life he went by the name of' Ninety and Nine.'"
From South America, only last November, came this testimony from a former co-worker: ”Many years ago, in 1884, I had the pleasure of meeting you. I was then a member of your London choir, and helped in speaking to souls at the after-meetings of those wonderful gatherings you and dear Mr. Moody held in London in that year. Now, more than twenty years after, I am out here, where God in his grace has given me the privilege of witnessing for him for the last sixteen years. I can not tell you the blessing that the translations of your hymns into Spanish have' been here. I send you a copy of our hymn-book, in which I have collected a large number of songs, the great majority having against them 'S. S.,' signifying ' Sacred Songs and Solos.' These are translations, adaptations or tunes of your collection. I am sure God has graciously used these hymns in blessing many souls. Only this afternoon, while I was out visiting some new converts, I heard of the case of a woman converted through the singing of a Spanish translation of ' There were ninety and nine.' Some time ago a man, who was a bad character, was spoken to by a colporteur, and he had a desire to read the Bible. He lost his work for a day and a half while he hunted in the different book-shops for a Bible. At last he got one, and commenced reading it. He came to our openair meetings, followed us into one of our halls, and was soon converted. He was so thankful to the Lord for what he had done for him that he asked us to come and have meetings in his house. The result has been that at least twelve of his relatives and neighbors have been converted. Not long ago a woman came into the meeting in his house in a careless, laughing way. The hymn I have referred to was being sung. The Spirit of God convicted her then and there, and she burst into tears and cried to God for mercy, saying that she was ' that lost sheep, out on the mountains.' She found peace, and now her husband is converted, and they are bright and earnest Christians."