Most Christians are familiar with Eternal Father Strong to Save, also known as “the Navy hymn.” It was popularized by the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy during the latter part of the 19th century. I’ve sung this song often in church services, and you probably have, too… but do you know the story behind this well-loved hymn?
It was written by an Anglican churchman named William Whiting, who was born in England in 1825. During a journey by sea Whiting was terrified when a violent storm caused the crew to lose control of the vessel. Only his faith in God allowed him to remain calm. The boat was badly damaged but managed to make it back to shore.
The experience was life changing for Whiting. He remembered it years later when a young man he taught in a training school in Winchester confessed his fear about embarking on an ocean voyage to America. Whiting described his own experience and prayed for him. He also promised, “Before you depart, I will give you something to anchor your faith.” The result was this hymn, based on Psalm 107.
“Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters.
They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep.
For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves.
They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away”.
— Psalm 107: 23–26