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HYMN FOR PENTECOST 5 Eternal Father, Strong to Save

Psalm 107:23-30; John 6:23-27; Genesis 1:1;

Jesus Calming the Storm at Sea Rembrandt

Text: William Whiting (1825-1878). John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876)


1.     Eternal Father, strong to save,

Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,

Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep

Its own appointed limits keep;

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,

For those in peril on the sea!


2.     O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard

And hushed their raging at Thy word,

Who walkedst 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

3.     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!

4.     O Trinity of love and power!

Our brethren's 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



(A slight reworking of an older blog) The hymn for this Sunday is a beloved prayer for those facing perils of all kinds. Known as the Navy hymn, it comes to us from England. It was written by William Whiting, a musician, poet and hymn writer, born in Kensington, England. Because of his musical gifts he became master at Winchester College Chorister’s School. He lived near the sea and knew its perils.


Jesus calming the Storm James Ensor

As an island nation, England had to be a sea faring nation. Waterways were the only ways people had to leave the country. Hymn writers frequently used the language of the sea to describe their troubles and difficulties. In Whiting's age, people had faced the perils at sea.

Whiting around this time had experienced a very rough voyage and remembered the passage from Psalm 107, “He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” Soon after that a young man he knew spoke to him about going to America. He was fearful of being on the ship for such a long time. The ocean frightened him. Whiting wrote the hymn in 1860 to comfort him.


This was at the time the editors of the hymnal Hymns Ancient and Modern were getting their first edition ready to be published in 1861. One of the most prolific composers of the Victorian Age, John Bacchus Dykes, wrote the tune Melita (a corruption of the word Malta, the island where the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked) for the text and submitted it to the editors in time for it to be included.

William Whiting

Almost overnight the hymn became the English Navy hymn. In 1879 it was adopted by the American Naval Academy in Annapolis. Every Sunday service at the chapel concluded with the hymn, led by the Midshipman’s Choir.


When people today hear it they may remember the funerals of presidents: John Kennedy was a Navy man; Franklin Roosevelt, (he had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy); Richard Nixon; and George H. W. Bush. It was also used by Senator John McCain; both he and Bush had been Navy pilots.


Benjamin Britten used the hymn in his opera Noyes Fludde for Noah's family to sing as the deluge begins. Winston Churchill made sure it was sung at the service he and President Roosevelt held on board the Prince of Wales battleship August 9, 1941, some months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Prince of Wales battleship was shot down in the Pacific by the Japanese just three days after Pearl Harbor had been attacked. It lost over 300 of its men.


Just the sounds of the opening strains bring us back to times when we heard it, usually in times of great national moment. It is a profoundly biblical text, and speaks to all three lessons for the day--referring to the Psalm, to Jesus calming the storm, to the Holy Spirit's breathing over the water, to asking for help for those in peril on the sea, but also in other situations of danger. Take courage!



John Bacchus Dykes

First included in Hymns: Ancient and Modern, in 1861, the hymn has become obligatory for many Armed services in the English speaking world. In Britain it is the hymn of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Air Force, the British Army; and in the US, the Navy, the Coast Guard and Marine Corps, as well as for the navies of many Commonwealth Nations. Over time many stanzas have been added for one or another armed service, the Air Force, even space travel. It can be found in almost all main line denominational hymnals in the USA.



Naval Academy


Congregation in Portsmouth


Prince of Wales meeting on August 9, 1941


In Noyes Fludde, Benjamin Britten's opera


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Gracia, thank you for your comments on the hymn. When I saw the title of the hymn, I immediately thought of my wonderful Father's Day with some of my family. I attended St. John's with the Freund family. Randy preached. I said to my three great-grandchildren that their great-great-great-great-grandparents started this church. That's a lot of greats. Back to my comment about the hymn, "Eternal Father Strong to Save" I thought of earthly fathers who perform their God given duty here on earth.



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