The song known to United States Navy men and women as the "Navy Hymn," is a musical benediction that long has had a special appeal to seafaring men, particularly in the American Navy and the Royal Navies of the British Commonwealth and which, in more recent years, has become a part of French naval tradition.
The original words were written as a hymn by a schoolmaster and clergyman of the Church of England, the Rev. William Whiting. Rev. Whiting (1825-1878) resided on the English coast near the sea and had once survived a furious storm in the Mediterranean. His experiences inspired him to pen the ode, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save." In the following year, 1861, the words were adapted to music by another English clergyman, the Rev. John B. Dykes (1823-1876) , who had originally written the music as "Melita" (ancient name for the Mediterranean island of Malta). Rev. Dykes' name may be recognized as that of the composer given credit for the music to many other well-known hymns, including "Holy, Holy, Holy," "Lead, Kindly Light," "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," and "Nearer, My God to Thee."
In the United States, in 1879 the late Rear Adm. Charles Jackson Train, an 1865 graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis was a lieutenant commander stationed at the Academy in charge of the Midshipman Choir. In that year, Lt. Comdr. Train inaugurated the present practice of concluding each Sunday's Divine Services at the Academy with the singing of the first verse of this hymn.
The hymn, entitled "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," is found in most Protestant Hymnals. It can be more easily located in these hymnals by consulting the "Index to First Lines" under "Eternal Father, Strong to Save." The words have been changed several times since the original hymn by Rev. Whiting was first published in 1860-61. One will find that the verses as now published differ from the original primarily in the choice of one or two words in several lines of each verse. However, inasmuch as it is not known whether the original words are now available in a hymnal, those original words are given below:
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 walked'st 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 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.
This last stanza was written much more recently and covers all branches of the Armed Forces:
Lord, guard and guide the men who fly
And those who on the ocean ply;
Be with our troops upon the land,
And all who for their country stand:
Be with these guardians day and night
And may their trust be in they might.
-- author unknown, about 1955
We used this hymn as a tribute to our veterans during our Worship Service at Laurel Baptist Church May 24, 2009.