Eternal Father, Strong To Save

c048a2fed556b82a26395fb1d5728796Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who biddest the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, 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 walked 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!

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!

O Trinity of love and power!
Our family shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect us wheresoever we go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Words by William Whiting, 1860
Music by John B. Dykes, 1861

 


Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
Isaiah 40:28

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
Proverbs 8:29

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
Matthew 8:23 – 27

Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.
Matthew 14:23 – 25

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Genesis 1:1 – 2

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Matthew 28:19

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.
Psalm 28:7

the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
Psalm 121:8


 

As long as man has walked the earth, the sea has served as a source of fascination and fear, a source of dread and delight. The sea can be a sight of beauty that seem to go on forever with an endless horizon. It can also be a sight of unparalleled terror as the great storms roll in filling that same horizon. They can be the purest image of peace and tranquility. And they can be a source of unimaginable power. Man has set out time and again to conquer the sea, some times to safely return and other to never be heard from again. It is this incredible image of the sea that William Whiting draws upon in his hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”, also known as “The Naval Hymn.”

The hymn begins with the words, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” The use of the name Eternal Father draws our minds to the book of Isaiah where we read in 40:28 of the “everlasting God” and in 9:6 of the “Everlasting Father.” It is to the Eternal Father that the first verse is addressed. Whiting expounds his discussion of the Father when he says “Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, Who biddest the mighty ocean deep Its own appointed limits keep.” It is God the Father who formed the seas and set their boundaries. As Proverbs 8:29 says, “he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command.” It is the Father who put everything in its place, and the power of the sea is within His command.

The hymn now moves from the Father to Jesus Christ, the Son when it says, “O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard And hushed their raging at Thy Word,” Immediately our minds are drawn to Matthew 8:23 – 27 where we find the account of Jesus having fallen asleep on the boat as a great storm arose and when alerted through the fearful cries of the disciples “he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” The hymn continues on to say, “Who walked on the foaming deep.” Again our minds are drawn to the book of Matthew, but this time to 14:23 – 25 where we read, “Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.” He speaks and the storms and sea are silenced. He walks upon the very surface of the water. The Power of Christ over the very sea that fills man with such awe, can not help but humble us before Him.

The hymn has spoke of the Might of the Father and the supremacy of Christ over all things. It now moves on to speak of the Holy Spirit when it says, “Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood Upon the chaos dark and rude.” The Spirit over the water is an image that is familiar to all who have heard the creation account in Genesis 1. For in Genesis 1:1 – 2 we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” From the beginning of creation the sea was present and the Spirit of God filled it all.

The hymn moves into its final verse by bring everything together. It has presented us with the vision, that as powerful as the sea may appear to us, it is nothing when compared to the power of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is this image that is brought together when it says, “O Trinity of love and power!” Here our minds are drawn to another image of water. There is immeasurable power to be found in the sea, but in the New Testament we find another image of power that is represented in the water.

In Matthew 28:19 we read, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The image of the Trinity is tied to the image of Salvation. It is in the name of each member of the Godhead that we come to faith. For the Father sent the Son, who gave His life and it is the Spirit who has been sent to indwell in all who believe. It is this that is then represented in the water flowing over the new believer in baptism.

The hymn then addresses the truth that our God is “Our family shield in danger’s hour.” That “the LORD is our strength and our shield.” (Psalm 28:7) And that we can call on Him to “Protect us wheresoever we go.” For Psalm 121:8 tells us that, “the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

The sea is a powerful image in the mind of people everywhere. For those who have seen its endless horizon, those who have swum in depth and those who have sailed upon it vast surface it is an image that is indelibly written upon their minds. Yet as incredible and amazing as it is, it is nothing when seen in light of the awesome power of God. It is in this truth that we can join with the final line of the hymn, “Thus evermore shall rise to Thee Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.”

 

 

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