John Nelson Darby, an esteemed servant of Christ, having once been asked to see a poor boy who was dying in some wild district in Ireland, narrated the following account of his visit. He says:
After upwards of an hour's toilsome walking (for the roads, which in some places led over steep hills, were in others scarcely passable on account of the heavy marshes), on entering the miserable hovel, I looked around me, and at first found no sign of any inhabitant, except an old woman who sat crouching over the embers of a peat fire. She rose as I entered, and, with the natural courtesy of the Irish poor, offered me the low chair, or rather stool, on which she had been seated. I thanked her, and passing on to the object of my visit, discovered in one corner of the but a heap of straw, on which lay the poor sufferer. Some scanty covering, probably his own wearing apparel, had been thrown over him; but as to bed or bedclothes, there was none discernible in this miserable dwelling. I approached, and saw a young lad of 17 or 18 years of age, evidently in a state of extreme suffering and exhaustion, and it was to be feared in the last stage of tuberculosis. His eyes were closed, but he opened them on my approach, and stared at me with a kind of wild wonder, like a frightened animal. I told him as quietly as possible who I was, and for what purpose I had come, and put a few of the simplest questions to him respecting his hope of salvation. He answered nothing; he appeared totally unconscious of my meaning. On pressing him further, and speaking to him kindly and affectionately, he looked up, and I ascertained from the few words he uttered that he had heard something of a God and future judgement, but he had never been taught to read. The Holy Scriptures were a sealed book to him, and he was, consequently, altogether ignorant of the way of salvation as revealed to us in the Gospel. His mind on the subject was truly an utter blank.
I was struck with dismay, and almost with despair. Here was a fellow creature, whose immortal soul, apparently on the verge of eternity, must be saved or lost forever; and he lay before me now, the hand of death close upon him; not a moment was to be lost, and what was I to do? What way was I to take to begin to teach him, as it were, at the eleventh hour, the first rudiments of Christianity?
I had scarcely ever before felt such a sinking within me. I could do nothing; that I knew full well, but on the other hand, God could do all; I therefore raised up my heart and besought my Heavenly Father for Christ's sake to direct me in this most difficult and trying position, and to open to me, by His spirit of wisdom, a way to set forth the glad tidings of salvation, so as to be understood by this poor benighted wanderer. I was silent for a few moments, whilst engaged in inward prayer and gazing with deep anxiety on the melancholy object before me. It struck me that I ought to try to discover how far his intelligence in other things extended, and whether there might not be reasonable hope of his understanding me, when I should commence to open to him (as I was bound to do), the Gospel message of salvation. I looked down upon him with an eye of pity which I most sincerely felt, and I thought he observed that compassionate look for he softened towards me as I said, 'My poor boy, you are very ill; I fear you suffer a great deal."Yes, I have a bad cold; the cough takes away my breath and hurts me greatly.' 'Have you had this cough for long?' I asked. 'Oh yes, a long time—near a year now.' And how did you catch it? A Kerry boy, I should have thought, would have been reared hardily and accustomed to this sharp air.' Ah,' he answered, 'and so I was until that terrible night; it was about this time of year, when one of the sheep went astray. My father keeps a few sheep upon the mountains, and this is the way we live. When he reckoned them that night, there was one wanting, and he sent me to look for it.' No doubt,' I replied, 'you felt the change from the warmth of the peat fire in this little but to the cold mountain blast.' 'Oh, that I did; there was snow upon the ground, and the wind pierced me through; but I did not mind it much, as I was so anxious to find father's sheep.'
'And did you find it?' I asked, with increased interest. 'Oh, yes; I had a long weary way to go, but I never stopped until I found it.' And how did you get it home? You had trouble enough with that too, I dare say. Was it willing to follow back?"Well, I did not like to trust it, and besides it was dead beat and tired, so I laid it on my shoulders, and carried it home that way.' And were they not all at home rejoiced to see you, when you returned with the sheep?' Sure enough, and that they were,' he replied. 'Father and mother, and the people round that heard of our loss, all came in next morning to ask about the sheep, for the neighbours in these matters are mighty kind to each other. Sorry they were, too, to hear that I was kept out the whole dark night; it was morning before I got home, and the end of it was, I caught this cold. Mother says I will never be better now; God knows best. Anyways, I did my best to save the sheep.'
'Wonderful!' I thought: 'here is the whole Gospel history. The sheep is lost, the father sends his son to seek for and recover it. The son goes willingly, suffers all without complaining, and in the end sacrifices his life to find the sheep, and when recovered, he carries it home on his shoulders to the flock, and rejoices with his friends and neighbours over the sheep that was lost, but is found again.' My prayer was answered, my way was made plain, and by the grace of God I availed myself of this happy opening. I explained to this poor dying boy the plan of salvation, making use of his own simple and affecting story. I read to him the few verses in the fifteenth chapter of Luke's Gospel, where the care of the shepherd for the strayed sheep is so beautifully expressed, and he at once perceived the likeness, and followed me with deep interest while I explained to him the full meaning of the parable.
The Lord mercifully opened not only his understanding, but his heart also, to receive the things spoken. He himself was the lost sheep, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd Who was sent by the Father to seek for him, and who left all the joys of that Father's heavenly glory, to come down to earth and search for him and other lost ones like himself. He received it all. He understood it all.
(Luke 15. 3-7)
Somewhere about the year 1842, a young Scottish lad, George Clephane, stepped ashore in Canada to try and begin life anew. Although only in his early twenties, George had fallen a victim to drink. The change of country did not solve George's problem, and he got mixed up with the wrong kind of people in Canada. He spent his substance on riotous living. One cold morning he was picked up on the roadside in a state of complete collapse, the result of a drunken carousal and exposure to the elements. Shortly afterwards he died and was buried in the town of Fergus, Ontario. The news of his death stirred great sorrow in his old home in Fife, but most of all in the heart of his youngest sister, Elizabeth Cecilia. She had been born in Edinburgh, and the news of her brother's death arrived shortly before she was due to celebrate her twenty-first birthday. Through good report and evil report she had never ceased to love the black sheep of the family, and never wavered in her conviction that God loved him too. The thought burned itself into her mind that somehow in his dying hours, her brother had come to Jesus and been saved. The conviction shaped itself into an immortal hymn. She wrote it down to comfort her own soul:
There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
She locked the poem away in her desk. She died in 1869, her poem still unpublished. It was not the only one she had written.
The poem—`There were ninety and nine'—found its way into a Glasgow paper in 1874. It so happened that Moody and Sankey were in Scotland at the time. They had just finished a mission in Glasgow and were setting out for Edinburgh, and Sankey bought a newspaper at a Glasgow station. As he glanced through it hurriedly, his eye caught sight of Elizabeth Clephane's poem, half hidden in a corner of the page. He cut the poem out and placed it in his musical scrapbook. At the noon meeting on the second day in Edinburgh the subject was 'The Good Shepherd' on which Mr. Moody preached his sermon. When Mr. Moody finished, he asked Dr. Bonar to say a few words. At the conclusion of Dr. Bonar's message, Mr. Moody asked Ira D. Sankey if he had a solo appropriate to the subject with which to close the service. Sankey, lifting up his heart in prayer to God for help, placed the little newspaper slip on the organ, and began to sing note by note the hymn to the tune to which it is still sung. The hymn reached the heart of that Scottish audience, and Mr. Moody was greatly moved. And so the hymn, born under such strange circumstances, was launched upon the world. It has found its way into almost every hymnary, and has been a ministering angel to lead many a lost soul back home to God.—Workers Together
(Luke 15. 1-7)