Posted by: Billy Marsh | July 23, 2008

The Ninety and Nine

This is a post that I meant to publish a month ago but never got around to it. I kind of lost the motivation to post it primarily because the point of posting it was backed by the timing of two events intersecting on the same day. Once that day had passed, I felt like the moment was gone to make the most out of the situation. However, just these past few days, that post has popped back into my head and so I’m going to give it another shot.

On May 21, 2008, something very interesting occurred during my quiet time with the Lord. I had been reading through Matthew’s gospel, and on that particular day I had read chapters 17 and 18. As most of you know, Matthew 18 is famous for what Jesus has to say with respect to how believers ought to deal with offences from other brothers and sisters. However, right before that section appears the parable of the lost sheep. I have always been immensely touched by this brief illustration of Christ’s love for his own, and by the time I had finished reading it over, I was already meditating upon just what it means for the Savior to rejoice over finding just one of his lost sheep.

One Year Book of Christian History ~ E. Michael and Sharon Rusten

One Year Book of Christian History ~ E. Michael and Sharon Rusten

The next step I took in my devotional time was to pull down off the shelf my One Year Book of Christian History. I bought this handy little book about 2 years ago and feel in love with it right away. I’m not big on devotionals nor any type of daily reading book that often supplants the place of personal Bible study and communion with God in people’s alone times with the Lord, but this is one I on which I would heartily place my stamp of approval. The readings are short; they are accompanied by a set of reflective questions and a relevant verse of Scripture; and the content is both informative as well as edifying insofar as you are immersed into the wondrous world of Christian history, being constantly challenged by the lives of those who have gone before us such as the apostle Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Tyndale, Spurgeon, Billy Graham, and so forth and so on.

Now back to my story. As I said, it was May 21, so of course, I read the reading for that day in my One Year book. When I glanced at one of the subheadings to that day’s choice selection, I was dumbfounded. It was titled, “The Ninety and Nine”. The story began by telling about a woman by the name of Elizabeth Clephane who wrote a poem that went by two names, “The Lost Sheep” and “The Ninety and Nine”. Clephane had written this poem for a magazine in order to cope with the loss of her wayward brother, whom she had hoped that Christ, the Good Shepherd, had found before he had died.

Many years later, American evangelist D. L. Moody was on tour in Scotland. While on a train his song leader, Ira Sankey, was flipping through a magazine called Christian Age and stumbled upon Clephane’s poem. Immediately he was struck by its power and emotive depth. So moved by the poem, Sankey removed it from the magazine and kept the clipping on his person until the following day’s evangelistic meeting. Interestingly enough, the theme for this particular meeting was “The Good Shepherd”. On May 21, 1874, after preaching a stirring sermon, Moody called for Sankey to play a solo on the spot. Unprepared, Sankey moved to the organ, placed the clipping of the poem on the stand, and prayed to God for his aid in helping to sing these lyrics which had no previous music attached to them. Remembering this moment, Sankey said, “Laying my hands upon the organ I struck the key of A flat and began to sing.” And out came what is one my most beloved hymns.

What was so fascinating about this whole ordeal was that while I was reading Matt 18 and the parable of the lost sheep, the song “The Ninety and Nine” came to my mind and I had planned on searching my iTunes library for it to see if I still had it on hand since I had not listened to it for quite some time. So needless to say, I took it as a Word from the Lord to spend a little extra time meditating on both the Scripture text and the hymn. As far as having anything earth-shattering to tell you in terms of fumbling over some sort of revelatory gold-mine, I come bearing no new gifts. But, for me, that morning was very special. I know the Lord orchestrated the timing from the foundations of the earth that my daily Christian history reading would coincide perfectly with my Scripture reading passage, causing me to think at more length and much deeper about the The Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, the one who rescued this one lost sheep, and rejoices with all of heaven that I will not perish but have eternal life in him. To God be the glory for great things he hath done!

The only version I have of the song is by Andrew Peterson. It is very celtic. Since I haven’t figured out yet how to play a song on a post per se (thanks for your help so far Ched), I’ve uploaded the mp3 into my media player in the sidebar. You should be familiar with how it works. Check it out and let me know what you think. Click here to purchase Peterson’s album Carried Away where the track “The Ninety and Nine” appears.

Here’s the words to Clephane’s poem:

The Ninety and Nine

There were ninety and nine that safely laid, 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.
For now has thee here the ninety and nine, are they not enough for thee,
But our shepherd made answer, “This of mine has wondered away from me,
And though the road be rough and steep, I go to the desert to find my sheep,
I go to the desert to find my sheep.”
None of the ransomed ever knew how deep were the waters crossed,
Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through
Where he found his sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert he heard its cry, sick and helpless and ready to die,
Sick and helpless, and ready to die.
But all through the mountains, thunder riven and up from the rocky steep,
There arose a glad cry at the gates of heaven, “Rejoice for I have found my sheep!”
The angels echoed around the throne, rejoice for the Lord brings back his own,
Rejoice for the Lord has brought back his own.


  1. That is exactly the same passage that struck me while I was in Argentina. More than anything else I read or was taught during that trip, the lost sheep parable struck me for myself and for those that God would be bringing me and the others in contact with while we were there. Even now, there are people that I have not been forgiving and have not even thought of the hope for their salvation….but this reminds me that they are lost sheep, sick and dying, and in need of God who loves them. Thanks for posting this and the poem…it was perfect timing for you on May 21- now it was meant for me today. Love ya, brother!

  2. oh little sister, I’m glad you commented! I didn’t even know you read my blog. You gave a good word of testimony in your comment. I’m glad to see that the Lord blessed you through the post and what he taught you about the Lost Sheep parable while in Argentina. I hope now he will teach you even more about what it means for Christ to seek and save the lost, and then to rejoice over us being found! Don’t be a stranger, somebody’s got to compete with Dad for leaving the most comments on my blog:)

  3. What’s the matter? Getting tired of me? Too bad!

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