“The Ninety and Nine”

"Doth He not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains and seeketh that which is gone astray?" (Matt. 18:12)

     INTRO.: A hymn which reminds us of the effort to which the Great Shepherd has gone to seek His lost sheep is "The Ninety and Nine" (#123 in Hymns for Worship Revised, and #560 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Elizabeth Cecelia Douglas Clephane, who was born at Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 18, 1830, the daughter of Andrew Clephane, the county sheriff of Fife and a member of the Scottish Free Church. After being orphaned by the death of their father, she and her two sisters settled at Melrose near Abbotsford, the home of author Walter Scott. From her youth up, Elizabeth was in frail health, but to the limit of her ability, she served the poor and sick in Melrose. Though poor, the sisters gave to charity what was not needed for family maintenance, even to selling the horse and carriage. She was known to the townspeople as "The Sunbeam."

     Miss Clephane produced at least eight hymns. It is believed that the words for "The Ninety and Nine," which were especially for children, date from 1868, shortly before her early death at Melrose on Feb. 19, 1868. These poems were published posthumously from 1872 to 1878 under the title "Breathings from the Border" in The Family Magazine, a Scottish Presbyterian magazine edited by William Arnot, a Free Church minister.  Her best known hymn, "Beneath the Cross of Jesus," was the first, and "The Ninety and Nine" was the last. The latter was also printed in a magazine called The Children’s Hour in 1872. About a year later, in 1873, revival evangelist Dwight L. Moody was in Scotland for campaigns with his song director Ira David Sankey (1840-1908). After completing a meeting in Glasgow, they prepared to board a train for Edingburgh where Moody was to conduct a service at the Free Assembly Hall.

     Just before stepping on the train, Sankey stopped to purchase a newspaper. While Moody prepared his sermon, Sankey scanned the paper and was about to toss it aside when he discovered this poem about the Shepherd seeking the lost sheep, cut it out, and placed it in his pocket.  In Edinburgh, Moody’s subject was "The Good Shepherd." FInishing the message, he turned to Sankey and asked him to lead some fitting song.  Sankey had not expected the sermon and had no appropriate number. Since he could think of nothing else suitable, he recalled the little poem that he had put into his vest pocket. So he pulled it out and began ato sing.  Note by note the tune (Ninety and Nine) came to him as he sang, and this is perhaps the only case where a hymn melody was composed while the composer sang it publicly for the first time. It has remained unchanged to the present day. The hymn was made famous by Sankey and Moody during their crusades throughout Great Britain in 1873 and 1874. It was first published in Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos of 1874.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, it appeared in 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) edited by L. O. Sanderson (as arranged by the editor); the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal edited by Marion Davis; and the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     The song recounts how the Good Shepherd went to find the lost lamb.

I. According to stanza 1, a sheep is away from the fold.
"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."
 A. The "fold" represents a place of safety, which for Christ’s sheep is the church: Jn. 10:1
 B. The Bible teaches that all have been out on the hills away because have sinned: Rom. 3:23
 C. Therefore, each one of us was at one time or another like the sheep who went astray and was away on the mountains: 1 Pet. 2:25

II. According to stanza 2, the Shepherd goes out to look for the sheep so that He can plead with it to return.
"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.’"
 A. The ninety and nine are not enough for the Shepherd because God wants all men to be saved: 1 Tim. 2:3-4
 B. Therefore, the Shepherd is concerned about the one who has wandered away, so He came to seek and save the lost: Lk. 19:10
 C. God has always pleaded with His people, when they stray from Him, to return; Isa. 55:6-7

III. According to stanza 3, the Shepherd crossed the deep waters in the dark of night so that He could call the sinner to repentance.
"But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed,
Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.
Far out in the desert He heard its cry;
‘Twas sick and helpless and ready to die."
 A. Jesus left the glories of heaven and came to this "low land of suffering and sin": Phil. 3:5-8
 B. He passed through even the dark night of death on the cross: Heb. 2:9
 C. The Good Shepherd did this for His sheep that was sick and helpless and ready to die in order that He might bring them back to the fold: Mk. 2:17

IV. According to stanza 4, the Shepherd even shed His blood to bring back the sheep.
"’Lord, whence are those blood-drops all the way
That mark out the mountain’s track?’
‘They were shed for the one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.’
‘Lord, whence are Thy hands so rent and torn?’
‘They’re pierced tonight by many a thorn.’"
 A. God had decreed that without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sin: Heb. 9:22
 B. Therefore, Jesus shed His blood for the remission of our sins: Matt. 26:28
 C. The Shepherd was willing to go to these lengths to save the lost sheep because God is not willing that any should perish: 2 Pet. 3:9

V. According to stanza 5, there will be rejoicing even in heaven over the lost lamb that is restored.
"But 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.’"
 A. The mountains and the rocky steep represent the depths of sin to which we had sunk and in which the Shepherd had to seek us: Eph. 2:1-13
 B. However, saving the sheep was part of the joy that was set before Him, for which Jesus endured the shame of the cross: Heb. 12:1-2
 C. And yes, even the angels of heaven rejoice over just one sinner who comes to repentance: Lk. 15:5-7

     CONCL.: It is said that when Moody and Sankey visited Melrose, Elizabeth’s two sisters were in the audience to hear Moody speak and heard their departed sister’s song sung. Certainly, we should be thankful that God loved us enough to send His Son to seek and save us even when we were lost and indifferent. And if Jesus went to these lengths to save us, we should obey Him that we might be saved and then accept the challenge to assist Him in seeking those who have strayed from "The Ninety and Nine."


One thought on ““The Ninety and Nine”

  1. Hundreds of years ago, this beautiful Hymn was written and the meaning then are ten fold more than they were then.
    How He went out and found that lost little sheep, how he cut himself and walked in deep water to save this wandering lamb.
    He does that over and over again today.
    Praise His Name, He found me, I was that lost little sheep.
    Are you lost? Cry out to Him and the Angels will rejoice in Heaven for you.


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