Posted by: rcottrill | March 28, 2012

The Ninety and Nine

Words: Elizabeth Cecilia Douglas Clephane (b. June 18, 1830; d. Feb. 19, 1869)
Music: Ira David Sankey (b. Aug. 28, 1840; d. Aug. 13, 1908)

Wordwise Hymns (Elizabeth Clephane, and her brother George)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: George Clephane was the lost sheep of this wonderful song. His story is told in the Wordwise Hymns link. The creation of the words and the tune are both amazing from beginning to end. So are the many accounts of individuals who’ve been blessed by the song. In his book, My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns, Ira Sankey devotes nine pages to one story after another of how the Lord used The Ninety and Nine to change lives.

One day, Mr. Sankey received a letter from Elizabeth’s sister, thanking him for turning her late sister’s poem into a song. (She’d died several years before.) The letter told Sankey more about this Christian family in Melrose, Scotland, and about Elizabeth, of whom her sister said:

“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 favourite of the teacher. Her love of poetry was a passion. Among the sick and suffering she won the name of ‘My Sunbeam.’”

Elizabeth Clephane wrote the song text when she was twenty-one, and it’s based on Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep (Lk. 15:3-7). In the parable, the shepherd represents the Lord Himself, caring for His sheep. In the historical context, these are the people of Israel who had lost their way spiritually (Matt. 10:6; 15:24; cf. Ps. 78:52; 80:1). However, we can see in it an application to any backslidden child of God. (Notice, it’s one of the shepherd’s own sheep that had wandered off.) More broadly, the parable also suggests His concern for lost sinners whom He came to save (Lk. 19:10; cf. Isa. 53:6).

CH-1) 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.

1) See in the Bible, and the song, the care of the shepherd. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out [to pasture]….He goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Christ adds, in explanation, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (Jn. 10:3-4, 14). The Lord is concerned for His flock.

2) See also the concentration of the shepherd. Though he knows and cares for all his sheep, he is concerned for the welfare of each one individually. Even though most are safe in the fold, he notices that one has wandered off. Compare the work of salvation. The big picture is: “God so loved the world” (Jn. 3:16), and Jesus died for the sins of all mankind (I Jn. 2:2). But that sufficient payment does not become efficient until it is personally appropriated by faith. Then, we as individuals can say, “The Son of God…loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

3) Then see the courage of the shepherd. He heads off into the wilderness to search for that one lost sheep. Similarly, God the Son took on our humanity and descended to the wilderness of this world, giving His life to save us. Even though His sacrifice is proclaimed in the Word of God, we can have little conception of what it cost Him. As Elizabeth Clephane puts it in CH-3 and 4:

None of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.

“Lord, whence are those blood drops all the way
That mark out the mountain’s track”
“They were shed for one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.”

4) Finally, see the celebration of the shepherd. “Rejoice with me,” he says, “for I have found my sheep which was lost!” (Lk. 15:6). In the spiritual application, that there is “joy in heaven” over one sinner who repents (vs. 7).

CH-5) And all through the mountains, thunder riven
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a glad cry to the gate of heaven,
“Rejoice! I have found My sheep!”
And the angels echoed around the throne,
“Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!
Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!”

1) Heaven is surely a place filled with joyful praise. What must it be like when there is a special celebration over the salvation of one individual?

2) Based on what we know of the Shepherd, what implications does this have for us as His servants?

Wordwise Hymns (Elizabeth Clephane, and her brother George)
The Cyber Hymnal


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