This article was found in the November 1950 copy of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church. It was written by R. A. Newman
The Ninety and Nine
Here is a story by Sankey the famous evangelist: - It was in the year 1874 that the poem "The Ninety and the Nine" was discovered, set to music, and sent out upon its world wide mission. Its discovery seemed as if by chance. Mr. Moody and I were travelling from Glasgow to Edinburgh. He busy, and I reading the daily newspaper hoping to see some news from America. My eyes fell upon a little pieces of poetry in a corner of the paper and I read it over carefully, at once making up my mind that it would make a great hymn for evangelistic work, if it had a tune. I called Moody's attention to it, and read it over to him, but he was so engrossed with correspondence that he paid no heed, but I kept it. At the noon meeting the following day, held at the Free Assembly Hall, Mr. Moody after his address on "The Good Shepherd" turned to me and said, "Have you a suitable solo appropriate for the subject with which to close the service?" I had only the 23rd Psalm in mind, and it had been sung several times at the meeting, and I knew I could never sing it as a solo for every Scotsman in the audience would be sure to join in. At this moment a voice seemed to say, sing the hymn found in the train, but I thought - Impossible as there is no music to it. The voice, however, was insisted, so I just lifted my heart in prayer, asking God to help me so to sing that the people might hear and understand. Laying my hands upon the organ I struck the chord of A flat and began to sing. Note by note, the tune was given, and the first verse sung, and then I wondered whether I could repeat it for the second. I succeeded with the five verses. Moody came down the pulpit in tears demanding "Sankey where did you get that hymn? I have never heard the like." I replied "Mr. Moody that's the hymn I read in the train to you yesterday which you did not hear."
Thus Ninety and Nine was born. The author was Elizabeth Clephane of Melrose, born in Edinburgh in 1830 and died in 1869.
One Sunday morning in August, 1875, the Rev. E. H. Bickersteth, Vicar of Christ Church, Hampstead, heard Canon Gibbon at Harrogate preach from Isaiah 26 verse 3 "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee". The words Perfect peace lingered in his mind, and shortly afterwards he went to visit a dying relative, Archdeacon Hill, and finding him somewhat troubled in mind, he took a sheet of paper, and there and then wrote that beautiful hymn
Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
And which he read to his dying friend. Have you noticed that the first line of each verse (except the last) is really a question, with the answer in the second line. Upon taking the poem home, and reading it to his family, one of his sisters drew attention to the fact that it contained no reference to the trial of physical suffering. "That's soon remedied" he replied, and taking an old envelope wrote on the back: -
Peace, perfect peace, mid sufferings sharpest throes?
The sympathy of Jesus breathes repose.
Again you notice question and answer, but this verse is not, for some reason, included in our hymnary.
Another of our well loved hymns was written under great mental distress.
O Love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul on Thee.
George Matheson, the author of this hymn, was born in Glasgow in 1842. His University career was most brilliant, but at the age of 20 he became blind. Nevertheless he carried his heart's purpose and became a minister, first in his native city, then at Inellan, near Dunoon, and subsequently at Edinburgh. He died in 1906.
The hymn was written at Inellan on an evening in June, 1882. Dr. Matheson said "It was composed with extreme rapidity, I felt myself in the position of one being dictated to, rather than in that of an original artist. I had suffered a severe loss, and was in extreme mental distress, and the hymn was the fruit of pain." It has been stated that his distress of mind, was caused by his sweetheart breaking off the engagement on account of his blindness.
If that is true, it gives poignancy to the poem and illuminates its meaning. Each verse has a central thought in illustration of the doctrines of self realisation through self annihilation.
The poet Tennyson was not really a hymn writer. His life ranged from 1809 to 1892. We have two of his compositions in our book, the first being in fact a portion of that great poem "In Memorium" Strong Son of God, immortal Love. The second is treated as an Anthem Crossing the Bar.
Dr. Butler of Trinity College, Cambridge, once asked Tennyson how he came to write "Crossing the Bar." Pointing to a nurse who had been with him 18 months, and who exercises great influence over him, the old poet replied: - "That nurse was the cause, she asked me to write a hymn, and I told her hymns were such dull things, and I compose so slowly - however, I knocked it off in 10 minutes."
Shortly before his death, he called his son, and told him that it was his desire that "Crossing the Bar" should appear at the end of all future editions of his works, an injunction which has been faithfully fulfilled. May we like the poet have the hope and faith to see our Pilot face to face when we cross the bar.
I will finish this month with another of Sankey's stories - At Chicago at one of Moody and Sankey's great temperance meetings in 1876 a convert gave the following testimony: -
"At the outbreak of war in 1861 I enlisted and was soon a first lieutenant. I was 18 and had never before been away from home. Unfortunately I took to drink, and a constant card player with fellow officers, and by 1870 was a physical wreck.
I abandoned myself to the wildest debauchery. In anticipation of sudden death I destroyed all evidence of my identity, so that my friends should never know of my end. One day I wandered into one of your meetings and sat under the gallery in a drunken dazed condition. I got up to go out whilst the meeting was singing "What shall the Harvest be". The words and the music stirred me with a strong emotion. I listened to the 3rd verse:
Sowing the seed of a lingering pain
Sowing the seed of a maddened brain
Sowing the seed of a tarnished name
Sowing the seed of eternal shame
Oh, what shall the harvest be?
I rushed out in desperation and soon found a saloon and called for liquor to drown my sorrow, but everywhere in the bar room, even in my glass, I could read "What shall the Harvest be." I dashed the glass to the floor and went out. Two weeks afterwards I returned to the Tabernacle again, and in the Inquiry room, found peace."
Sankey says - a week later the man returned and showed him a letter from his little daughter. As follows: - Dear papa
"Mama and I saw in the Chicago papers that a man had been saved in the meetings there, who once was a lieutenant in the army, and I told Mama I thought it was my Papa. Please write to us soon as Mama cannot believe it was you."
The man received his letters at the G.P.O., and Mr. Moody took steps to restore him to his family. With the help of friends he studied for the ministry, and for some years was pastor of a large Church in the North West where he died in 1899. The man's name was W.O. Lattimore.
It is just another one of thousands of illustrations of the power of Divine Song. That hymn - "What shall the Harvest be" was a great favourite in my young days, and one could often hear it whistled in the street, or sung at Sunday evening hymn singing round the piano after Church service, in family gatherings, with friends. A custom, I fear, that has died out, in these days of wireless music.