Eternal Father, Strong to Save

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!

Last summer I had a conversation with a U.S. Navy sailor who works on a nuclear submarine.  He had to severely limit the details he shared with me, because so many of them are classified, but he was able to tell stories from his many months on tour, cut off from all contact with the outside world, in a sealed cylinder under the waves.  He mentioned near death encounters he’d had (nearly running aground on underwater mountains and such) and how the providence of God had protected him and his shipmates so many times.  His faith in God’s protection has a meaning for him that it does not have for me due to so much of his special experience.

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!

This hymn, the verses of which I have scattered throughout this post, was written in 1860 by the Englishman William Whiting.  The U.S. Navy has since adopted it as “The Navy Hymn.”  Many branches of the U.K.’s military have adopted it (or versions of it) as their own as well.  Ever since it has been written, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” has been a reminder to Christians to pray for military service members and civilian mariners.  I think that’s a reminder I (and modern Christians) need often.  A growing segment of the church has grown skeptical of the legitimacy of American military campaigns, an issue I don’t wish to address here.  But since Paul commanded persecuted Christians to pray for their corrupt Roman government, I think we should pray for those lives our government risks in its endeavors, especially since so many of them are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Many of my Christian friends are in the military; the same may be the case for you as well.

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!

But this hymn has so much more to teach us.  The first three verses each address a member of the trinity, giving us a beautiful example of a trinitarian prayer.  The third verse speaks of the Holy Spirit’s work during creation (Genesis 1:2).  The second verse recalls to our memory two of Jesus’ most famous miracles, works which clearly demonstrated his supreme power of creation, signs that play a vital role in making the case that Jesus Christ is in fact God of very God.  The first verse reminds us of our God’s sovereignty, providence, and role as both Creator and Sustainer.  These three verses are rich in theology for us to meditate upon.

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.

And this verse should be a glorious encouragement, a triumphant victory cry, for Christians, because we trust in the supreme being for our protection.  He is on our side; if He is for us, Who can stand against us?  Whether in the midst of suffering, in the midst of making important life decisions, in the midst of a struggle in our prayer lives, in the midst of a struggle with sin, or in the midst of anything else, that is a motivating and encouraging truth we want and need to hear.

Several additional verses have been added to the hymn at various times.

Oh, Watchful Father who dost keep
Eternal vigil while we sleep
Guide those who navigate on high
Who through grave unknown perils fly,
Receive our oft-repeated prayer
For those in peril in the air.

Several horrific air tragedies in the past several years have reminded us of the necessity of this prayer.  These days we rely on air transportation so much; perhaps do we begin to presume upon God’s goodness by our lack of prayer?  I don’t think I could possibly defend myself against that charge.  The verse was written during World War II, and thus reminds me of the Air Force, and friends I have right now in the Air Force.

Lord God, our power evermore,
Whose arm doth reach the ocean floor,
Dive with our men beneath the sea;
Traverse the depths protectively.
O hear us when we pray, and keep
Them safe from peril in the deep.

And this returns us to my submarining friend.  I found myself convicted, in my conversation with him, of not praying enough for others, specifically those who need frequent prayers for their physical safety.  This hymn and that conversation, however, encourage me to pray more, and give me things to pray about, so that I have no excuse for a weak prayer life.  How could I possibly neglect prayer when I recognize God’s power and how much I need to ask of Him?  I hope this post may help you as its contents have helped me.  May we be more faithful in the future to pray.

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Eternal Father, Strong to Save

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