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Great Christian Hymns

Posted on 1 February 2017


Elizabeth Douglas Clephane ( 1830-1869 ), author of the hymn The Ninety and Nine, which was made famous in the 1870s by Dwight L. Moody's singing evangelist Ira D. Sankey, was a Scottish Presbyterian, and on the distaff side, a descendant of the renowned Douglas family. In Melrose, not far from Walter Scott's home at Abbotsford, she settled won with her sister; and there, to the limit of their strength and substance, the two sisters shared what they had with the poor of the neighborhood.

It was with her wayward older brother George in mind that Elizabeth put into immortal verse , Jesus' parable of the ninety and nine. About 1842, George had gone to Canada as a 'remittance man'. Being unused to hard work however, he proved to be a failure at farming and finally gave himself over to drink and died at the early age of thirty two. He is buried in St. Andrew's Presbyterian church yard in Fergus, Ontario.

Elizabeth Douglas Clephane's hymn appeared in "The Children's Hour" shortly after her death in 1869 and was afterwards widely reprinted in newspapers and magazines. One of these chanced to fall into the hands of Sankey, who, greatly impressed by the words as he read them over and over again, tore them out and put them into his pocket.

One night following an extended revival meeting in Glasgow, Mr. Moody preached on "The Good Shpeherd". After he had finished, he asked Sankey to sing something appropriate. The latter not having been told that eservice topic for that night, was caught unprepared, but at once thought of the poem in his pocket. Putting it on the music rack and his fingers on the organ keys, and at the same time praying for inspiration, he began improvising the tune now so well known around the world. This is probably the only instance in which a composer sang a tune for the first time exactly as it stands today.

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