The Ninety and Nine2018-08-02T07:33:33+00:00

Hymn Story

The Ninety and Nine

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I relate this story despite the fact that this hymn is found in few hymnals today.  It is an appropriate accompaniment for a sermon based on Matthew 18:10-14 or Luke 15:1-7, because it tells in song the story of the lost sheep, the loving shepherd, and the great celebration.  Perhaps the choir or a soloist could sing it.

The words came from a poem written by a woman whose name was Elizabeth Clephane.  Her poem was published in a British newspaper in the late 1800s—in the corner of one of the inside pages—probably as a bit of filler.  Dwight L. Moody, the evangelist, and his song leader, Ira Sankey, were in Scotland for a series of evangelistic meetings, and Sankey noticed the poem, cut it out, and stuck it in his pocket.

At Edinburgh, their next stop, Moody preached a sermon entitled “The Good Shepherd” and asked Sankey to close with an appropriate hymn.  Sankey couldn’t think of anything appropriate from his repertoire, but remembered the poem in his pocket.  He pulled it out, found the right key, and began to sing—making up the tune as he went along.

The poem has five lengthy verses.  When Sankey finished the first verse, he wondered if he could remember his hastily improvised tune so that he might finish the last four verses.  However, as he continued to sing, the tune came more naturally with each succeeding verse.

I remember “The Ninety and Nine” because my mother had an LP (a long-playing vinyl record) by George Beverly Shea that included it.  It was one of her favorites, and one of the many facets of her witness to me.  When I hear it today, I am immediately transported to my childhood home.

— Copyright 2007, Richard Niell Donovan