GOD & TEXAS: Frank Eiland - Hymnist
When American frontiersman and posthumous Texas hero Davy Crockett left politics in Tennessee, he famously said that they may go to hell, but he would go to Texas. But once Crockett arrived in Texas, he may have been a bit surprised at how similar the Lone Star state was to Hades.
Not only was Texas hot and sultry, but a portion of the population consisted of violent criminals and other unsavory characters. Mercifully, God had a plan to bring the Gospel message to the unsuspecting citizens. As it says in Romans 5:20 ESV, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more!”
It was early in 1836 when Crockett guided a group of earnest preachers and their flock from northern Alabama into Texas near present day Granbury. The main spiritual leaders were Mansil W. Matthews and Lynn D’Spain. You may remember that it was Mansil Matthews, a medical doctor, who tended the wounds of General Sam Houston following the battle of San Jacinto.
Matthews and D’Spain were leaders in the Restoration Movement, an outgrowth of the Great Awakening that swept through the 13 American colonies in the 1740s. A key element of the Restoration Movement was music. As part of their evangelistic outreach, the group conducted singing schools in various communities on weekends. At these schools, new hymns were introduced, choirs and small groups sang, and the Gospel was preached.
To this day, the music of the Restoration Movement continues to be felt in Texas churches. Some of the well-known writers include Knowles Shaw (Bringing in the Sheaves), Robert Lowry (Shall We Gather At The River?), James McGranahan (I Will Sing Of My Redeemer), and James D. Vaughan (I Feel Like Traveling On).
Possibly the best remembered songwriter of the Restoration Movement was a man of ill-health but enormous talent. Franklin Lycurgus Eiland was born in Mississippi in 1860, and died in 1909 in Golden, Texas, while conducting a singing school. During his short life, “Brother” Eiland composed over 120 songs and wrote the music for over 100 more.
One song that is still sung today is titled “Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand.” In this case, Eiland wrote the music to a poem that was written by Mary Jane (Jennie) Bain Wilson. Wilson was a wheel-chair bound invalid who had an amazing gift for writing lyrics for hymns. Though they never collaborated again, that one song remains quite popular for choirs, quartets, and Gospel singers.
Eiland’s daughter, Mary Ella Oree, was an accomplished pianist and worship leader, who often traveled with him to the singing schools. Eiland’s granddaughter, Cindy Walker, became a nationally-known Gospel and Country songwriter. She wrote over 500 songs, and her music was recorded by such acclaimed artists as Bing Crosby, Elvis, and Willie Nelson.
Isn’t it amazing how God has used ensuing generations to present His message? Now, it is our turn.
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