Posted by: rcottrill | May 2, 2010

Today in 1790 – Martin Madan Died

A cousin of hymn writer William Cowper, Martin Madan, early on, lived a wild and reckless life. Then he began a career in law, but after being converted through the preaching of John Wesley he turned his back on a legal profession and became an Anglican clergyman. Madan served as chaplain at Lock Hospital, an institution said to be “for the restoration of unhappy females [i.e. prostitutes].”

Greatly upset by the problems of the patients, he wrote a book about the evils of prostitution called, Thelyphthora or a Treatise on Female Ruin, Its Causes and Effects, Consequences, Prevention and Remedy, Considered on the Basis of Divine Law. But he unleashed a storm of criticism by advocating, at one point, in this document that polygamy might be a cure for prostitution! Madan was forced to resign his position because of his strange views, and retire to private life.

As to his connection to English hymnody, he originated few hymns himself, but added stanzas of his own to the work of others, including Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus, and Lo He Comes With Clouds. His 1760 book A Collection of Psalms and Hymns Extracted from Various Authors was a significant contribution to hymn singing in its day.

(2) Today in 1851 – George Clephane Died
George Clephane was not a hymn writer, but he inspired the writing of a notable gospel song. In Scotland, where he was born, George fell in with bad company and began drinking. His father felt the young man might be able to start a new life in Canada, and George went to live in the town of Fergus, Ontario (near where I was born).

The family hoped and prayed for the best, but George took his thirst for liquor with him, and had similar problems here. He was found one morning in a ditch, after a night of revelry. He died soon after, at the age of 32. The plaque pictured is found in the Fergus church in whose cemetery he is buried.

Back in Scotland, his sister Elizabeth thought of her wayward brother as the lost sheep in Jesus’ parable (Lk. 15:3-7), and held out the hope that he had repented and turned to Christ before the end. It was her loving concern for him that prompted her to write The Ninety and Nine. (Miss Clephane also wrote Beneath the Cross of Jesus. To learn the remarkable story behind the writing of the tune for The Ninety and Nine, see Today in 1899.)

There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.

“Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine;
Are they not enough for Thee?”
But the Shepherd made answer: “This of Mine
Has wandered away from Me;
And although the road be rough and steep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep.”

(3) Today in 1901 – Carl Backstrom Born
Carl Ernest Backstrom came with his family to America in 1907. He worked in a bank for a number of years, then took theological training and became a pastor. He served Mission Covenant congregations in Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio. He became a Presbyterian in 1948.

Pastor Backstrom gave us the English translation of August Storm’s Swedish gospel song Thanks to God.

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,
Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a memory,
Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,
Thanks for dark and stormy fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten,
Thanks for peace within my soul!


  1. […] death. (For Miss Clephane’s inspiration for The Ninety and Nine, see the second item under Today in 1790. For amazing incidents connected with Ira Sankey, the composer of the tune, see Today in 1899.) […]

  2. The Rev. Carl Ernest Backstrom was my grandfather. My mother and I have many of his original writings, including histories of the early Covenant Church.

    If you would like anymore information about his life, you may contact me at

    • Thanks so much for getting in touch. I must admit my information on Mr. Backstrom is rather sparse. Did he write any other gospel songs that I could check out?

  3. […] Wordwise Hymns (Elizabeth Clephane, and her brother George) The Cyber […]


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