The service in the Free Church Assembly Hall, Edinburgh, on May 21, 1874, had centered on the theme of “The Good Shepherd.” Messages by Dwight L. Moody, Horatius Bonar, and others emphasizing the shepherd work of Christ had greatly impressed a responsive audience.
Then Moody turned to his associate, Ira D. Sankey. “Have you a solo appropriate for this subject, to close the meeting with?”
Sankey felt impelled to use a poem by Elizabeth C. Clephane that he had clipped from a paper just the day before on the train, though that would mean composing music, playing, and singing simultaneously.
“Placing the little newspaper slip on the organ in front of me,” he said afterwards, “I lifted my heart in prayer, asking God to help me to sing so that the people might hear and understand. Laying my hands upon the organ, I struck the key of A flat and began to sing:
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,
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.
“After the first verse I was glad that I had got through, but overwhelmed with fear that the tune for the next verse would be greatly different from the first.” But he continued to look to the Lord, who “gave me again the same tune for all the remaining verses. As the singing ceased, a great sigh seemed to go up from the meeting, and I knew that the song had reached the hearts of my Scotch audience.” Years later he recalled, “Note by note the tune was given, which has not changed from that day to this.…”
Thus was born one of the most effective gospel songs of all time. Perhaps it is the most famous of Sankey’s more than eighty compositions. ...1
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