This is the day that … a weekly newspaper, The Christian Age, dated 13 May, 1874, printed a poem, which fell into the hands of Mr Ira D. Sankey.
With his friend, D.L. Moody, beside him, the two American evangelists sat in a railway carriage travelling towards Edinburgh. Moody had just completed the Glasgow campaign.
In that newspaper Sankey found a poem and read it to Moody, “only to discover that he had not heard a word, so absorbed was he in a letter.” However, Sankey kept the poem – “I cut it out and placed it in my musical scrap-book.”
At the second meeting of the Edinburgh campaign Moody preached on “The Good Shepherd”, and whilst the chairman (Dr Bonar) made some closing remarks, Moody asked Sankey to sing something appropriate to close the meeting. Sankey tells us in his autobiography that singing the 23rd Psalm crossed his mind, but … let Sankey tell the story … “At that moment I seemed to hear a voice saying: ‘Sing the hymn you found on the train.’ But I thought this impossible, as no music had ever been written for it! Nevertheless the inner conviction persisted.
“Placing the little newspaper slip on the organ in front of me, I lifted my heart in prayer, asking God to help me … I struck the chord of A flat and began to sing. Note by note the tune was given which has not been changed from that day to this” (pages 306-307). After the service Moody asked his friend, “… where did you get that hymn?” to which Sankey replied: “Mr Moody, that’s the hymn I read to you yesterday on the train, which you did not even hear…”
The hymn was written by Elizabeth Clephane (who also penned Beneath the Cross of Jesus).
And the hymn? …
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.
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.
Out in the desert He heard its cry –
Sick and helpless, and ready to die.
(From My Life Story and the Story of the Gospel Hymns, by I.D. Sankey, page 304).