This is the day that … Elizabeth Cecilia Douglas Clephane was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1830. She was the delicate, retiring one of three sisters whose example impacted their community.
“Gentle and retiring in disposition, and generous to a degree, she was known as ‘The Sunbeam’ among the poor and suffering in Melrose”, the village in which she lived, and made famous in Walter Scott’s novels (including The Abbot and the Monastery).
Elizabeth and her sisters belonged to the Free Church of Scotland where Rev. James Irwin later ministered. “There still remains,” he wrote, “a treasured memory of their wholehearted devotion to the church … their generosity was a constant joy to my predecessor and the church treasurer!” (The Romance of Sacred Song, by D. Beattie, page 55).
The sisters gave away everything they did not require for their daily needs, so they might meet the needs of the poor. Elizabeth gave herself to Bible Study and poetry writing. Many of her poems were published anonymously.
Her poem … “There were ninety and nine that safely lay in the shelter of the fold” …was found in a newspaper by Ira Sankey and spontaneously set to music as he sang and played the organ with only the words before him! (My Life Story, by Ira Sankey, page 307). It was 1874, in Glasgow, Scotland. “A short time afterwards I received, at Dundee, a letter from a lady who had been present at the meeting thanking me for having sung her deceased sister’s words” wrote Sankey (ibid.).
Elizabeth Clephane’s other well-known poem was also published posthumously, and set to music three years later …
Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand!
The hymn is testimony to her ardent Bible study, as it is replete with Biblical references and allusions. The reference to “the mighty Rock” is taken from Isaiah 32:2. The reference to “the weary land” is taken from Psalm 63:1. The reference to “home within the wilderness” is taken from Jeremiah 9:2. The reference to “rest upon the way” is taken from Isaiah 28:12. The reference to “noontide heat” is taken from Isaiah 4:6. The reference to “burden of the day” is taken from Matthew 11:30.
Miss Clephane died at the age of 38.
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.