"The Ninety and Nine" was written by Scottish poet Elizabeth C. Clephane in 1868, the year before her death at age 39. The poem was written for children, first appearing The Children's Hour magazine that same year. It was likely inspired by the story of her brother, George, who after failing in his attempt at farming in Canada suffered from depression and turned to alcohol which lead to his untimely death. After its initial publication the poem appeared in various magazines and newspapers.
In 1874 evangelist D. L. Moody was in Scotland for a series of revival meetings, traveling by train from Glasgow to Edinburgh. His song leader, Ira Sankey, was killing time by flipping through a newspaper he had picked up at the train station hoping to find the latest news from America when he noticed the poem. He read it to Moody, who paid no attention, as he was working on his sermon for the evening. Before he discarded the paper, Sankey cut the poem out and put it in his pocket. At the Edinburgh meeting, Moody's sermon was "The Good Shepherd." As he finished the sermon, he turned to Sankey and asked him to sing an appropriate hymn. Nothing came to mind, until he remembered the poem that was still in his pocket and felt moved to sing it -- although it had no music! Nevertheless, Sankey sat down at the organ, placed the clipping in front of him, and in his words, "I lifted my heart in prayer, asking God to help me. Laying my hands upon the organ, I struck the key of A-flat and began to sing. Note by note the tune was given, which has not been changed from that day." By the end of the song, Moody and Sankey were both in tears, and the audience was profoundly mooved. Sankey later described the experience as "one of the most intense moments of his life."
The other hymn Elizabeth C. Clephane is known for it "Beneath the Cross of Jesus." Sankey composed the music to about 125 hymns, including "How Can I Keep From Singing?"
The Ninety and Nine