Posted by: rcottrill | July 8, 2013

Eternal Father, Strong to Save

Words: William Whiting (b. Nov. 1, 1825; d. May 3, 1878)
Music: Melita, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The Wordwise Hymns link has a little about William Whiting, and about how the hymn came to be written. It as been adopted as The Sailor’s Hymn, or The Navy Hymn, by both the British and American navies.

The version of this 1860 hymn I’ve quoted is from the 1867 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern. Whiting himself revised the hymn in 1869, and again in 1874. When he wrote the hymn, sea voyages were common, and air travel was nonexistent (unless one were to count hot air balloons!). Various attempts have been made to add stanzas including other forms of travel. The Cyber Hymnal includes a number of these. However, the focus of the hymn is on sea travel.

“Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, they see the works of the LORD, and His wonders in the deep” (Ps. 107:23-24).

This stirring song, with its majestic tune, is an ardent prayer for those who travel by sea. Each Person of the Trinity is invoked, with the concluding stanza appealing to the “Trinity of love and power.”

CH-1 addresses God the Father, the One who set the bounds and borders for the oceans (Job 38:8-11; Prov. 8:29). Since the worldwide flood of Noah’s day, He has “set a boundary that they may not pass over, that they may not return to cover the earth” (Ps. 104:9).

CH-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!

CH-2 addresses God the Son, the One who, by supernatural power, walked upon the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 14:22-25), who slept confidently in the midst of a fearful storm (Mk. 4:35-38), and who commanded the wind and waves to cease their raging–and they did (Mk. 4:39).

CH-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!

CH-3 addresses God the Holy Spirit, recalling His brooding over the watery waste at the dawn of creation (Gen. 1:1-2). It’s possible that Whiting remembered some lines from John Milton’s Paradise Lost that speak of this: “Thou from the first / Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread / Dove-like sat’st brooding on the vast abyss.”

CH-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!

On May 29th of 1914 (a Friday), the RMS Empress of Ireland collided with a Norwegian ship in the St. Lawrence River. It sank with over a thousand casualties, Canada’s worst peacetime shipping disaster. Lost in the sinking were a number of Salvation Army personnel, including the Commissioner and his wife, and a large part of the Canadian Staff Band. On the Sunday afternoon following, there was a touching incident outside the Canadian Pacific offices in London.

A crowd of family and friends of the passengers awaited news of survivors. As the Salvation Army’s Regent Hall Band passed by, they began to play this hymn. The last two lines of each stanza were familiar to those gathered, and they were deeply moved, as their own hearts echoed the prayer: “Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, / For those in peril on the sea!” It’s reported that women sank down on the curb and wept, while men, with convulsively heaving shoulders hid their faces in their hands.

1) Does your church pray for those who serve in the Navy and other armed forces?

2) How would you explain the limits of God’s protection? (That is, why is it that not all those who pray for safety are kept safe?)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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