by Al Maxey

Issue #513 ------- December 6, 2011
And all through the mountains, thunder-riven
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a 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."

Elizabeth C. Clephane {1830-1869}
The Ninety and Nine

The Ninety and Nine
A Sankey-Clephane Classic

Those who are rigidly religious rarely find it within themselves to manifest a spirit of grace. The outer parameters of their acceptance are clearly marked and militantly patrolled: you are embraced if you embrace their positions; you are eviscerated if you do not. Jesus, the very personification of grace, mercy, compassion, love and acceptance, repeatedly rebuked the scribes and the Pharisees for their heartless rejection of those they deemed inferior. In contrast, Jesus went out of His way to welcome such "outcasts" into His presence, which continually infuriated these self-righteous religionists. Unable and unwilling to defend their own narrow theology, they instead attacked the character of Jesus, seeking to destroy Him by defamation. Failing in that, they ultimately sought His death.

The legalistic patternists have little use for those seeking grace (and, frankly, they have none to offer), thus they tend to drive them away. Jesus and His disciples, however, welcome such persons with open arms and empathetic hearts, which drives the legalists nuts! "Now all the tax gatherers and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them'" (Luke 15:1-2). That's right -- Jesus would rather hang out with a whore than a legalist, preferring publicans to Pharisees. This rankled them to no end. Their problem was (and such people have the same problem today) they failed to grasp grace -- they simply couldn't conceive of a ministry of reconciliation in which "outcasts" were brought within the parameters of their fellowship. Such was simply more than they could tolerate; thus, they lashed out at our Lord, and they continue to lash out at His ambassadors of grace today.

To these scribes and Pharisees, who were grumbling at His grace, Jesus spoke the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7; Matt. 18:12-14). The Pharisees would have been content with the "ninety and nine that safely lay in the shelter of the fold," but Jesus had a heart of compassion for that lone lamb "away on the mountains wild and bare, away from the tender Shepherd's care." The Pharisees would have said, "Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine: Are they not enough for Thee?" "But the Shepherd made answer, 'This of Mine has wandered away from Me; and though the road be rough and steep, I go to the desert to find My sheep.'" The poetic words I have just quoted, which are based on this beautiful parable of a shepherd's love and concern for his flock, come from the pen of a young woman named Elizabeth Cecelia Clephane (1830-1869), and they are found in her wonderfully inspiring hymn "The Ninety and Nine," which has long been one of my personal favorites. It is believed that Elizabeth wrote this poem (which was set to music after her death) for her dear brother George Clephane, who had wandered away from Christ and had become an alcoholic. However, shortly before his death (he fell from a horse, struck his head on a rock, and was killed instantly), he had returned to the fold, having been sought and found by the Good Shepherd. His grave site at Fergus, Ontario, Canada is now a place of pilgrimage for those who relate to the sentiments of this touching hymn by Elizabeth Clephane. Although many had written off her brother as "a lost cause," she never did ... and neither did the Lord Jesus. "Out in the desert He heard its cry; sick and helpless and ready to die."

Elizabeth Cecelia Douglas Clephane was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on June 18, 1830. She was the third daughter of Andrew Clephane, who was the Sheriff of Fife and Kinross. Her mother was a descendant of the famous Douglas family. She spent most of her life in Melrose, which was about 30 miles southeast of Edinburgh, not far from the old bridge described by the famous Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott in his book "The Abbot and the Monastery." Elizabeth had a good many physical disabilities, and she was very frail and sickly for most of her life as a result. Nevertheless, she refused to allow her condition to dampen her spirits, and spent the majority of her time, energy and money on a number of charitable causes. For this she was known affectionately among the people of the town as "Sunbeam." She loved writing poetry, and especially enjoyed writing poems for children. A number of these poems were published in the Scottish Presbyterian magazine "The Family Treasury," although most appeared posthumously in 1872, three years after her death at the age of only 38. One such poem was "The Ninety and Nine." Another such poem, which later also became a well-known and beloved hymn of the church, was "Beneath the Cross of Jesus." These are the only two hymns by which she is remembered today, and both became hymns years after her death. Thus, she was never aware of the great impact her words would have on countless disciples around the world for generations to come. Elizabeth Clephane finally succumbed to her many disabilities on February 19, 1869, and is buried at St. Cuthbert's in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The music for the hymn "The Ninety and Nine" was composed by Ira D. Sankey (1840-1908). Ira was born of Scotch-Irish ancestry on August 28, 1840. His family moved to Newcastle, Pennsylvania when he was a teen, and it was there that he attended high school and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. "Here he began his first choir work. His strong baritone voice soon began to attract attention and crowds came to hear him sing. In 1860 Sankey enlisted in the Twelfth Pennsylvania Regiment. While in the army he frequently led the singing for religious services. However, the idea of devoting his life to the music ministry did not seem feasible to him. Upon his return from the military, he became a clerk in the Internal Revenue Service" [Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories, p. 252]. How fitting that the music of this classic hymn, the words of which bear witness to the accepting grace of our Savior, should be written by an employee of the IRS, for the very parable our Lord told, upon which this hymn is based, was given to the scribes and Pharisees who criticized Him for associating with "tax gatherers and sinners." How ironic that centuries later a publican and a woman, neither of whom the legalistic Pharisees had much respect for, should be the ones to produce a hymn sung by millions that refutes the very religious exclusivism and lack of compassion of those who inspired our Lord's parable!

In 1870, Ira Sankey went to Indianapolis, Indiana to attend a YMCA convention. The preacher for this convention was the famous evangelist D. L. Moody. "The singing for the convention's services had been extremely poor. Finally, the suggestion was made that Sankey should lead. Immediately there was a new spirit and enthusiasm injected into the gatherings. At the close of the convention Sankey was introduced personally to Moody" [ibid]. The rest is history. Sankey gave up his work with the IRS, at the urging of Moody, and moved his family to Chicago, after which he began touring with D. L. Moody in his evangelistic campaigns as his minister of music. Some time later, while these men were "riding a train one morning from Glasgow to Edinburgh to conduct a service in the Free Assembly Hall of Edinburgh, Sankey stopped to purchase a newspaper in the train depot, hoping to get news from America. As he idly turned over the pages of the paper during the ride, he discovered Elizabeth Clephane's poem 'The Ninety and Nine.' Sankey cut out the poem and placed it in his pocket" [ibid, p. 251].

That afternoon, Moody's message was on Luke 15:3-7 -- the Parable of the Lost Sheep, and how our Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost. At the end of the message, Moody turned to Sankey, who was on the stage with him, and asked him to sing some solo that was fitting to this theme. Sankey was not expecting this request, and couldn't think of anything. "Then suddenly he recalled the little poem he had put into his vest pocket. Placing his newspaper clipping on the folding organ before him and breathing a prayer for divine help, he struck the chord of A flat and began to sing. Note by note the tune was given to him, and that same tune has remained unchanged to the present time. Sankey declared that it was one of the most intense moments of his life. He said that he could sense immediately that the song had reached the hearts of the Scottish audience. 'When I reached the end of the song,' reported Sankey, 'Mr. Moody was in tears and so was I.' When Moody arose to give the invitation, many 'lost sheep' responded to the call of Christ" [ibid]. This, by the way, was Ira Sankey's very first attempt at composing music for a hymn. Not a bad first attempt!! Clearly, God's Spirit was at work that day on many levels. Sankey and Moody visited Melrose, Scotland during this same tour and when Sankey repeated his solo, "Elizabeth Clephane's two sisters were in the audience. One may imagine their delight and surprise when they heard their departed sister's poem set to Sankey's music and learned of the spiritual impact this hymn had in the furtherance of the gospel" [ibid, p. 252]. "Today the famed organ on which Ira D. Sankey composed his spontaneous melody to Elizabeth Clephane's text sits in the chapel at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota" [ibid, p. 253]. Thank God for these two devoted servants. May their story inspire each of us to greater devotion to the gospel of His glorious grace!!

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A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Virginia:

Dear Bro. Al, You are so inspiring, and I really love reading your Reflections. Thank you for sharing the Truth with many of us who have been trapped by the teachings of legalism. I am mailing you a check for two signed copies of your book Down, But Not Out. Have you ever considered developing a teaching series based on this book? It would be awesome!! I really wish you could come and teach this at our congregation. There are some people here with scars from the teachings of the legalists!! Your work on this subject has been very refreshing, and you have helped to flush out much of the confusion, nonsense, and textual manipulation that has been a huge part of my legalistic past. I can't thank you enough, and hope I get the chance to meet you one day!

From a Reader in Finland:

Dear Bro. Maxey, Thank you for your Reflections article on water baptism titled: "Born of Water and Spirit: Reflecting on the Statement by Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:5" (Issue #212). I have been studying this same subject for ten years now, and I have come to conclusions similar to your own. I believe that options #3 and #6 are most likely to be true.

From a Minister in Kenya, Africa:

Dear Brother Al, Kindly know that the Reflections continue to be a big blessing to me. Every time I receive them, I have to confess that they move me much closer to the cross. Thank you, and may God continue to use you. My dear friend Edward Fudge, Terry Rush, you, and many other grace- and Jesus-centered gospel men and women should never let the critics discourage them! I consider the harsh words the legalists use to describe you as persecution and false accusation. I believe you know what our Lord taught us on what awaits us when folks accuse us falsely. Keep up the good work.

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Brother Al, I am not nearly as well-known as you are, but I too have been called all sorts of things, including "Satanist," because I dared to teach some of the very same things you teach. I can't even imagine the scope of the anger (perhaps motivated by fear?) that is regularly thrown at you and my dear brother Edward Fudge. I am puzzled by one thing, though -- it seems that you continue to refer to even the most vile of these people as "brethren." By what standard would you consider a person a "brother" who regularly spews hatred, threats, and a false gospel, and who exhibits none of the Christian graces we find in our Bibles?! I don't suggest that we should refer to lost men with ugly terms, but I refuse to call a man "brother" who obviously is NOT (at least, not when measured by Bible standards). I really appreciate your work, Al, and hope to see you again at The Tulsa Workshop.

From a Reader in Arizona:

Brother Al, I am sorry that those who reject the Gospel have been defaming you! Your writings have refreshed me since I began receiving them! A wise brother wrote years ago, "A man may be known by his enemies, as well as his friends."

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, Don't give those loud mouths the time of day!! Remember: The loudest noise a toilet makes is when the contents are exiting the bowl. The freedom and grace of the Good News that you, and many others like you, are proclaiming have freed thousands upon thousands from the remaining sects that exist solely by enslaving their members to "another gospel" of human interpretation, tradition, and law. You encourage me in my walk, and for that I will always be grateful.

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, The Lord has richly blessed me in so many ways. My path to freedom in Christ Jesus began a few years ago when I read my first issue of Reflections and realized I had been missing out on the joy of a grace-filled life!! Amen and amen! God bless you, brother!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Al, I can sympathize with you concerning the criticism you get from some of our legalistic brethren. I taught at a Christian college for many years, and during the latter years of my teaching career I was also an elder at a grace-centered church. I received so much criticism from my fellow teachers that I retired somewhat earlier than I had planned. I just got fed up with all the criticism. After retiring, I moved to another town, and I now attend another grace-oriented church. One of my former students has now accused me of attending "the most liberal Church of Christ in town."

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Al, I identified completely with everything you wrote in this article!! For the last 18 years or so, since I was awakened to the glory of the Gospel of Grace and have sought to share these precious doctrines with others, I have been both openly and secretly vilified in every conceivable way. I know what you and Edward Fudge and others have endured. When we established Engedi Ministries in 1999, we were instantly a curse and a by-word with the legalists. Yet, I believed God had placed me where He wanted me to be, and so I continued my work with this ministry, and also as a full-time professor at David Lipscomb University. I used the opportunities God gave me at Lipscomb to share the doctrine of grace, with the result that many students came to know great joy because they realized their salvation is not contingent on their good works. I could ramble on, but the point is: You have described my own experience, and the conclusion you reached is one I have followed (actually, on the advice of Dr. Rubel Shelly), namely: Not to respond to the critics. I am now retired from teaching and ministry, and my wife and I are no longer involved with the Churches of Christ, but are in an environment of grace, love, and acceptance, waiting to see what God has in store for us next. May God bless you in your ministry, Al, as you pursue the same goals we did: To bring Christian freedom and grace to those enslaved to legalism. I appreciate that the direction you pursue is fidelity to the text of the Scriptures by pointing out what it really teaches.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, I really appreciated your thoughts in "Grumblings and Rumblings." I have been there!! I know that you must take a lot of heat from "brethren" who simply do not have the wherewithal to comprehend your thoughts. They have neither ears nor eyes! Still, you cannot ever know where the seed you sow will land. Likely, you will never know about most of the hearts the seed you sow touches. With the scope of the Internet, these seeds are literally being spread worldwide!! There is no telling how many hearts and even generations your teaching will impact. Just keep on keeping on! If you would like to "vent," give me a call; we can pray together. Brother, the amount of good you are doing probably is proportional to the heat you are receiving!! I also really liked your comment (in the readers' section) to the brother about the "when" of salvation. It was very well-stated. I also really liked your comment to the sister about the "unequally yoked" business.

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, I just read "Rumblings and Grumblings." Spot on, brother! Keep rollin' and livin' in the Grace of God!! May I recommend a great book to you? It is titled "The Prodigal God" by Timothy Keller, a Presbyterian pastor who started what has become a huge mega-church in Manhattan. It is published by Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Books. It is an awesome book addressing the two lost sons in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It's all about the modern Pharisees you do battle with daily. I think you'll find it most pertinent to your own daily battles. Carry on, my friend. You are making a difference!!

From a Youth/Family Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, Your recent issue "Grumblings and Rumblings" was timely, and has really encouraged me to press on!! I, along with so many others (including you), go through discouraging times when others complain against our ministries. It is so good to know that I am not alone! Thank you again for your encouragement.

From a Minister in Hawaii:

Dear Brother Al, The way you employed the Looney Tunes characters in your latest Reflections reminds me of the truth that there is a little "Foghorn Leghorn" and "chicken hawk" in all of us!!

From a Minister's Wife in Utah:

Brother Al, Thanks for this newest Reflections ("Grumblings and Rumblings"). I especially relate to your comment, "If your opponent can divert you from your good work in proclaiming God's grace and freedom in Christ by enticing you to endless debates with them over piddling points of law, then they have gained a significant victory over you." It is so true, and thankfully my husband and I have moved past the stage of not knowing when to defend our character. Most of the time our initial intention of simply defending ourselves only turned into an endless debate.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, I haven't responded in a while, but I couldn't let this one pass. I wanted to let you know that I believe the reason for these "grumblings and rumblings" against your ministry is because of your effectiveness!! Your ministry provides some biblical truths, as well as much food for thought (reflection), that is making many people very uncomfortable!! How effective! Your Reflections have been such a blessing to me, and I pray that you can continue to provide them as you have in the past. I've told you before, and I'll tell you again now, I thank the Lord regularly for you and your ministry! Please keep up the good work, brother!

From a Reader in Missouri:

Brother Al, I sit here in tears and in prayer. It breaks my heart that fellow brothers and sisters in Christ can be so full of hatred and slander and judgment against others as is evidenced by your critics. It hurts my heart. When will such people get out of the seat of judgment and get busy reaching the lost? How many people are they harming by such attitudes and attacks? Don't they realize that Satan is having a field day with every vile word they utter?! How can they possibly believe they are speaking for Christ? May God have mercy on them; they have certainly not shown any toward others.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, "Grumblings and Rumblings" was another home run article! Imagine the misery, the frustration, and the prospect of a life with no color, only lived in shades of grey! I think that must be the world view of those with a graceless, legalistic, grumpy, critical mindset, which seems to permeate the legalists within our fellowship. I shudder to contemplate standing before the King of Kings, who died in our place, and pleading one's eternal destiny with the hollow appeal of legalism. Jesus died for freedom. So, those who would rob us of our freedom in Christ are challenging the very efficacy of His sacrifice!! Now, that's a scary thought! I love you, my brother, and thank you for championing the cause of freedom in Christ Jesus.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I just wanted to take a moment and say Thank You for all your work. I've been reading your Reflections off and on for some time. I come from (and still belong to) the same "hard-line" Church of Christ as -------, -------, and -------. I'm a fifth generation member of this branch of the Churches of Christ, with many relatives that are preachers, elders, etc. in the "brotherhood." Having studied my way out of a lot of their positions (exclusivism, legalism, their view of NT ecclesiology, etc.), it's not always easy living among them, as you well know!! Your writings, however, have been a frequent comfort to me, and they remind me that even though it may feel like it at times, I am far from alone on my journey! God bless you!

From a Reader in South Carolina:

Brother Al, Those opposing you so vehemently are actually demonstrating exactly where they are centered ("the hit hound hollers"): they have a legalistic mentality that you have dared to suggest is skewed and not consistent with the whole Truth (you have struck them at their core). Thus, their writings against you utilize a rhetorical device known as "poisoning the well," which is often used in debate to introduce a misrepresentation of an opponent's position with the sole intent of discrediting anything further one's opponent might say (regardless of the actual truth). It is a dishonest and cowardly tactic. Rather than defending their own beliefs, they instead rail against your own. You see children doing this all the time. "Grumblings and Rumblings" was a great Reflections!! Keep it up, and be blessed.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Brother Al, I understand how hard it can be when you have a bunch of "Grumpy" brothers in your life (although I don't have as many, nor are they as fierce, as you experience). We recently stopped attending a Church of Christ where we have many, many friends, and which we had attended for four years. When I spoke with the preacher and told him of our need to become part of another congregation that was both grace-centered and active in the practice of their faith, he was slightly insulted, but still remained in the discussion with me. However, the moment that I mentioned instruments were used in this other congregation (upon his asking), he immediately "had an appointment" and left, with this parting shot: "Using instruments in worship IS A SIN!!" That was two months ago, and not one person has contacted us from that congregation. However, they have been talking about us, which saddens us, saying that we have "left the church." Brother Al, Thank You for your ministry which is such a tremendous blessing to my family, and to countless others!! Don't get too discouraged by those whose faith is still in the infant stage and who are trying to hurt you and your work. Stay focused on the Cross and His Love. I am praying for your encouragement and stamina, as well as for those who are publicly opposed to the simple Gospel Truth you share.

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