Eternal Father, Strong To Save

This upcoming Sunday we’ll be singing a hymn familiar to all, especially those who served in our country’s navy. The song known to United States Navy men and women as the “Navy Hymn,” is a musical benediction that long has had a special appeal to seafaring men, particularly in the American Navy and the Royal Navies of the British Commonwealth and which, in more recent years, has become a part of French naval tradition.

The original words were written as a hymn by a schoolmaster and clergyman of the Church of England, the Rev. William Whiting. Rev. Whiting (1825-1878) resided on the English coast near the sea and had once survived a furious storm in the Mediterranean. His experiences inspired him to pen the ode, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” In the following year, 1861, the words were adapted to music by another English clergyman, the Rev. John B. Dykes (1823-1876) , who had originally written the music as “Melita” (ancient name for the Mediterranean island of Malta). Rev. Dykes’ name may be recognized as that of the composer given credit for the music to many other well-known hymns, including “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Lead, Kindly Light,” “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” and “Nearer, My God to Thee.”

In the United States, in 1879 the late Rear Adm. Charles Jackson Train, an 1865 graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis was a lieutenant commander stationed at the Academy in charge of the Midshipman Choir. In that year, Lt. Comdr. Train inaugurated the present practice of concluding each Sunday’s Divine Services at the Academy with the singing of the first verse of this hymn.

The hymn, entitled “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” is found in most Protestant Hymnals. One will find that the verses as now published differ from the original primarily in the choice of one or two words in several lines of each verse. However, inasmuch as it is not known whether the original words are now available in a hymnal, those original words are given below:

Eternal Father, Strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid’st the mighty Ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to thee,
for those in peril on the sea.

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy word,
Who walked’st on the foaming deep,
and calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!
Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe’er they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee,
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Our sermon text for next Sunday morning is Mark 10:35-45, and is familiar to us as the text where James and John ask Jesus to prepare places for them in glory, and Jesus replies to all the disciples: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This text, among many others in the scriptures, reminds us of what we should be proud; of what we should covet; and of what we should prize. Glory on earth, and pride of earthly accomplishments, earthly belongings, and all of the rewards that come with them, make it nearly impossible to achieve glory on heaven. And since we know that this life is fleeting, and heaven is eternal, where ought our hearts, minds, and efforts be focused?

I love how this hymn illuminates this lesson for us. This hymn is one of many written while the author was experiencing or had just overcome a time of great distress, and their faith during their difficult trials can be very moving for us as modern-day Christians, and can help remind us of whom we ought to call upon when we face trials of our own.

(history source:


One thought on “Eternal Father, Strong To Save

  1. Kristen, I love this hymn. An experience I’ll never forget. While in college (an all woman’s school) our glee club was doing a military tour in Florida. We were scheduled to sing on Sunday morning at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, and we were late. When we walked into the chapel, and gathered in the narthex, the service had already begun. Their choir was singing the Navy hymn—Imagine the scene—a college age impressionable young woman (and of course lots of other impressionable young women) this whole chapel full of “beautiful” young men in uniform, and those gorgeous male voices singing the Navy Hymn. Still gives me a thrill. And, later on I met George who had also been in the navy.

    Thank you for sharing. Surely hope you feel better soon. I’m sad that we won’t be able to come next Tuesday night. Sounds really great, but we’ll be out of town that day, and probably not back in time.

    Love, Liz

    On Tue, Oct 16, 2012 at 3:08 PM, organists do it with pedals wrote:

    > ** > organistsdoitwithpedals posted: “This upcoming Sunday we’ll be singing > a hymn familiar to all, especially those who served in our country’s > navy. The song known to United States Navy men and women as the “Navy > Hymn,” is a musical benediction that long has had a special appeal to > seafari”

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