“Eternal Father, Strong to Save”

"Thou rulest the raging of the sea; when the waves thereof arise, Thou stillest them" (Ps. 89:9)

     INTRO: A hymn which praises God for His power to rule the raging of the sea and still the waves is "Eternal Father, Strong to Save." The text was written by William Whiting, who was born on Nov. 1, 1825, at Kensington in London, England. Educated at Clapham and at King Alfred’s College in Winchester, he became Master of Winchester College Choristers’ School in 1842 because of his musical abilities and held that post for 36 years, until his death. This school was the place where the choristers were trained for singing in the college chapel. Sixteen in number, the group was created by the founder of Winchester College, William Wyckham, in 1392. In addition to their singing, the boys served tables in the college hall and were allowed to study with the regular college students.

     The author of volumes of poetry, such as Rural Thoughts and Scenes in 1851, Whiting also contributed hymns to various collections. "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" was produced in 1860 as a poem for a student who was about to sail for America. It is the only one of Whiting’s hymns to survive in common usage. The tune (Melita) was composed for this text by John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876). The song first appeared in the musical edition of the 1861 Hymns Ancient and Modern, with the text slightly altered. Another of Whiting’s works was Edgar Thorpe, or the Warfare of Life in 1867. Another version of "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," this time revised by the author himself, was published in the appendix to the 1869 SPCK Psalms and Hymns for Public Worship. Whiting died at Winchester in Hampshire, England, on May 3, 1878.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie. The same tune was used with Anne Richter’s "We Saw Thee Not" in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and with Samuel Medley’s "His Loving Kindness" in the 1966 Christian Hymns No.  3 edited by L. O. Sanderson. Today Whiting’s song with Dykes’s melody may be found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John. P. Wiegand; and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise edited by Alton H. Howard; in addition to the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     The song reminds us of the need to seek God’s favor upon those who travel.

I. Stanza 1 is addressed to the Father
"Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
(The original read, "Whose arm doth bind;"
some modern books read "Does bind.")
Who biddest the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep:
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea."
 A. God is the eternal Father, who is strong to save because He is faithful to do His will: 1 Thess. 5:24
 B. It is He whose arm is able to bind the restless wave: Ps. 107:23-30
 C. As the Creator, He has bidden the mighty ocean deep to keep its own appointed limits: Job 38:8-11

II. Stanza 2 is addressed to Christ
"O Christ, whose voice the waters heard,
And hushed their raging at Thy word,
(Original–"O Savior, whose almighty word
The winds and waves submissive heard")
Who walkedst on the foaming deep,
And calm amid the storm (its rage) didst sleep:
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea."
 A. Christ is the Savior who participated in the creation of all things: Jn. 1:1-3
 B. As the divine Son of the Father, He demonstrated His power over the sea by walking on the foaming deep: Mk. 6:45-51
 C. Thus, even during a storm, He could be at peace and sleep amid the raging: Mk. 4:35-41

III. Stanza 3 is addressed to the Holy Spirit
"O (Most) Holy (Sacred) Spirit, who didst brood
Upon the waters (chaos) dark and rude,
And bid their (Who baddest its) angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild, confusion peace:
(Original–"And gavest light and life and peace")
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea."
 A. All of our books (except Songs of Faith and Praise, which uses the version with Spencer’s replacement stanzas as noted below) omit this stanza, as explained by Forrest M. McCann in the handbook to Great Songs Revised, Hymns and History, "according to the custom of our original editor (E. L. Jorgenson) of not including addresses to the Holy Spirit" (however, oddly enough, Great Songs Revised does have OTHER hymns addressed to the Holy Spirit).  The reason that some object to song which address the Spirit is that they say that it is too much like praying to the Spirit. Each one will have to develop His own convictions on this matter, but since praying and singing are identified as two separate acts of worship, it seems to me that one can sing a song addressed to the Holy Spirit, calling upon Him to do what the scriptures teach that He will do, without actually praying to Him: 1 Cor. 14:15
 B. It was the Holy Spirit who brooded upon the waters following the creation of the earth: Gen. 1:1-2
 C. This activity of the Spirit seemed to have been a prelude to the creation of light, life, and peace: Gen. 1:3, 20, 31

IV. Stanza 4 is addressed to the Trinity
"O Trinity of love and power,
Our brethren (family) shield in danger’s hour;
(Updated versions read "Your children")
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them (us) wheresoe’er they (we) go.
Thus evermore shall (And ever let there) rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea."
 A. The word "Trinity," though rejected by some, can simply be thought of as a word to describe the fact that God exists in three separate but united persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: Matt. 28:19
 B. In this fashion, God is asked to protect those who travel the sea, just as He did Paul and those with him on their voyage to Rome: Acts 28:1
 C. The song ends with a call for mankind to give thanks to the Lord for His goodness and praise Him throughout all the earth: Ps. 107:31-32

     CONCL.: Because of the revisions, different hymnbooks will have varying readings, depending on which source was used. In the United States, this song is known as "The Navy Hymn" because of its use by the United States Navy. In fact, its opening lines are inscribed over the chancel of the chapel at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. It was a favorite hymn of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was sung at his funeral.  It was also played by the Navy Band at the funeral and by the Marine Band at the burial of John F. Kennedy. Because the modern transportation now operates in other spheres than the waters, two new stanzas to replace Whiting’s stanzas 2 and 3 were written about land and air by Robert Nelson Spencer for the 1937 Missionary Service Book.
2. "O Christ, the Lord of hill and plain
O’er which our traffic runs amain
By mountain pass or valley low,
Wherever, Lord, Thy brethren go,
Protect them by Thy guarding hand
From every peril on the land."
3. "O Spirit, whom the Father sent
To spread abroad the firmament;
O Wind of heaven, by Thy might
Save all who dare the eagle’s flight,
And keep them by Thy watchful care
From every peril in the air."
Spencer also made alterations to the first stanza ("Almighty" instead of "Eternal") and the last stanza, ending the song with "Glad praise from air and land and sea." This version appears in some modern hymnbooks which wish to "update" older hymns. The song can be thought of as asking for God’s protection over those going overseas to preach the gospel. In it both praise for God’s power and a request for His safety are addressed to the "Eternal Father, Strong to Save."


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s