Sankey First Sang "The Lost Sheep"

Published Apr 28, 2010
Sankey First Sang "The Lost Sheep"

"What work are you in?" The man asking the question had just introduced himself to Ira B. Sankey as Dwight L. Moody.

Sankey replied that he worked for the Internal Revenue Service.

"Well, you'll just have to give it up," said Moody.

Sankey was in Chicago to attend a convention. He had heard of Dwight L. Moody's evangelistic work and wanted to see the great soul winner for himself. During the service, Moody asked someone to select a song. Sankey started to sing Cowper's hymn, "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood." The crowd enthusiastically picked up the tune.

"I've been praying eight years for someone like you," Moody told him. Sankey wasn't so so sure about this. Imagine being prayed out of one job into another! But several months later, Sankey joined Moody. Moody preached and Sankey sang. Between them they led hundreds of thousands to commit their lives to Christ.

It almost didn't turn out that way, however. Shortly after Sankey joined Moody, the Great Chicago Fire broke out. Sankey helped fight the flames, was nearly trapped, and barely escaped in front of them. He made his way to Lake Michigan and put off shore in a row boat. The boat's line broke and the singer was blown away from shore. Only with desperate effort and much prayer was he able to work his way back to dry land.

When Moody and Sankey rejoined forces, they toured Britain. Sankey saw a poem he liked in Scottish newspaper, tore it out, and read it to Moody. Moody didn't seem interested so Sankey tucked it into his pocket. When Moody asked for a closing hymn the next evening, the Holy Spirit prompted Sankey to use the poem in his pocket. Although he had composed no music for it, he pulled it out and made up the melody on the spot, half-singing and half-speaking the words. It was on this day, May 21, 1874 that the world first heard "The Ninety and Nine," a song based on Jesus' parable of the lost sheep. Response was overwhelming. Moody himself came down afterward with tears in his eyes and asked where Sankey had found the wonderful song!

Elizabeth Clephane wrote the words, but died before she knew how God had used them. The song begins:

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...

and ends:

There arose a glad cry to the gate of heaven,
"Rejoice! I have found My sheep!"
And the angels echoed around the throne,
"Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!
Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!"


  1. Hyde, A. B. Story of Methodism. Greenfield, Mass: Willey and co., 1887. Source of image.
  2. Moody, William D. Life of D. L. Moody by His Son. Revell, 1900.
  3. Sankey ,Ira David, 1840-1908. My life and the story of the Gospel hymns and of sacred songs and solos; with an introd. by Theodore L. Cuyler. New York : Harper, c1907.
  4. Various internet articles such as the cyberhymnal articles on Clephane and Sankey.
Last updated May, 2007.


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