Eternal Father, strong to save

‘Eternal Father, strong to save’ also known as the Royal Navy Hymn, is a 19th century English hymn traditionally associated with seafarers.

Written by William Whiting in 1860, it is a prayer of safe passage ‘for those in peril on the sea’. The popular Victorian hymn composer John Bacchus Dykes wrote the tune to this hymn. You might have heard his name before – he wrote tunes that are popular even to this day, such as The King of love my shepherd is, Holy holy holy, and so on. But ‘Melita’, the name of the tune he composed to Whiting’s words, is perhaps the tune most endowed with Victorian excess. Exaggerated chromaticisms, unprepared secondary sevenths, over-emotional harmonies … all the things later hymn writers would rebel against – but who can deny what a great sing it makes! When I was in London we sang this hymn every Sunday in the Chapel at the (Old) Royal Naval College, which had as its backdrop a dramatic Benjamin West painting of St Paul’s shipwreck in Malta that reached from altar to highest ceiling. I’m glad someone has chosen it as their favourite hymn because I haven’t had the opportunity to sing or play it since moving to Zurich a few years ago – it would make an odd choice to sing a seafarer’s hymn from this country!

Shaun Yong
Eternal Father, strong to save – played by Shaun Yong, Director of Music

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 walkedst on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
O 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;
O 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.

original words by William Whiting (penned in 1860)

A favourite hymn of John Osborne

You may wish to surf the Internet for more information about this hymn:

here is one such link

6 thoughts on “Eternal Father, strong to save

  1. Thank you Shaun for sharing this hymn. Often played at Sea Sunday in our Parish Church of St. Judes at East Dean in East Sussex. I would attend along with our village HM Auxiliary Coast Guard company, who supplemented the singing of the normal congregation. Lovely playing, thanks.

  2. Thank you for sharing your family history Carole, how extremely brave and how tragic.

    Thank you very much for the fascinating information Shaun, I am really enjoying learning about these hymns. I think I missed some of the first ones – can I find them anywhere and how do I submit my own favourite hymn?

    1. Hi Ruth. The first few Favourite Hymns are in the main list of posts, scrolling down. Once we have a good selection there will be a separate page for our favourite hymns. Hymns may be submitted via the Office or the Chaplain. A story or sentence to go with hymns is always welcome.

  3. This is also my favourite hymn. My stepfather was a Royal Navy Commander. His whole career was on the sea and finished when he was torpedoed in the Sea of Java Battle in 1942 and became a POW in Japan. But he survived.
    Joanna Koch

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