"And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Hush, be still.' And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm." (Mark 4:39)
"O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard And hushed their raging at Thy word ..." -- William Whiting (1860, Ref. 1)
Background. "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" is a hymn traditionally associated with seafarers, particularly in the maritime armed services (Ref. 2). The hymn became popular with the Royal Navy and the United States Navy in the late 19th century. The hymn also has a long tradition in civilian maritime contexts as well, being regularly sung during services on ocean crossings (Ref. 2).
In America, "Eternal Father" is often called the Navy Hymn because it is sung at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. In 1879, Lieutenant Commander Charles Jackson Train was a navigation instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy and the master of the Midshipman Choir. Train began the practice of concluding worship services with the 1861 version of the hymn every Sunday. The hymn eventually became a service-wide tradition, becoming known as the Navy Hymn (Ref. 2).
The U.S. Navy Band played “Eternal Father” in 1963 as U.S. President John Kennedy's body was carried up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to lie in state. Kennedy was a PT (Patrol Torpedo) boat commander in World War II (Ref. 2, Ref. 3).
“Eternal Father” was played by the Navy Band and the Coast Guard Band during the funeral of U.S. former President Ronald Reagan. The hymn was also played at the Memorial Ceremony in Norfolk, VA for the USS Cole (DDG-67) after the bombing of the ship in October 2000. It was performed by the U.S. Navy Sea Chanters at the State Funeral of U.S. former President Gerald R. Ford, who had served in the U.S. Navy during World War II in the Pacific Theater (Ref. 2).
The congregation and choir at Washington National Cathedral sang "Eternal Father" during the funerals for Senator John McCain on September 1, 2018 and for former U.S. President George H. W. Bush on December 5, 2018. Both served as U.S. Navy pilots (Ref. 2).
Hymn Text Author. William Whiting (1825-1878) was an Anglican churchman and resided on the English coast near the ocean (Ref. 2, Ref. 4). At the age of thirty-five he felt his life spared by God when a violent storm in the Mediterranean nearly claimed the ship he was traveling on. The storm instilled his belief in God’s command over the rage and calm of the sea (Ref. 2).
When Whiting was headmaster at Winchester College Chorister’s School some years later, the memory of his voyage allowed Whiting to provide comfort to one of the boys he taught (Ref. 5). One day, a student confided that he was about to embark on a journey to America – "a voyage fraught with danger at that time" (Ref. 5). "A sympathetic Whiting described his own frightening experience, and he and the other boys prayed for the terrified student. And then Whiting told him, 'Before you depart, I will give you something to anchor your faith' " (Ref. 5).
Whiting wrote a poem describing God’s power even over the mighty oceans (Ref. 2, Ref. 5). That poem, written in 1860, became the original text for the hymn, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save."
Hymn Tune Composer. John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876) was an English clergyman and a prolific hymn tune composer (Ref. 6). Dykes composed the tune for "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" in 1861. Dykes fittingly named the tune "Melita" after a location associated with a Biblical shipwreck. Melita was the island where the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked (Acts 27:41-28:1). Today we know it as the isle of Malta (Ref. 2).
Reverend Dykes published sermons and articles on religion but is best known for over 300 hymn tunes he composed (Ref. 7). In addition to his tune, Melita ("Eternal Father, Strong to Save"), John Dykes’ composed well-known tunes including Nicaea ("Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!") and St. Agnes ("Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee," "Happy the Home When God is There").
Scripture References. Ref. 2 and Ref. 8 provide the original verses of "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," 1861 version. You also can follow the verses by downloading the sheet music (link at top of this post, or by clicking here).
Listen - "Eternal Father, Strong to Save."
U.S. Naval Academy Men's Glee Club - U.S.S. Arizona Memorial - 19March2007
Dramatic Storm Video - Marine Nationale de France with Praque Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus - 11June2013
Military Wives - Eternal Father, Strong to Save - 10March2013
Apply. Pray for those who are serving in harm's way and need God's protection. Pray for yourself and others who are going through a storm and ask Jesus to bring calm and peace out of distress and trouble.
5. Ref. 5 begins on the next line
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