This hymn was written by William Whiting, the choirmaster of the Winchester College Chorister’s School in Winchester, England. Winchester is not on the coast and isn’t a port city, but the navy has always been important in England’s life and Winchester would have had sailors visiting from nearby Southampton and Portsmouth.
“Eternal Father, Strong to Save” was written as a prayer for people traveling on the sea, and was written in a time when the ships were made of wood and the sailors were made of iron — a time when sailing to distant ports meant risking your life.
Verse 1 is addressed to God the Father, verse 2 to God the Son, verse three to God the Holy Spirit, and verse 4 to the Trinity. In its original format, it asked for God’s protection only for those traveling on the sea, but other verses were added later asking God’s help for those traveling by land or air. It reminds us of the perils that we face throughout life and of our need for God’s protection.
The hymn tune to which Whiting’s words are sung is Melita, which John Dykes wrote especially for Whiting’s hymn. Dykes also wrote the tunes for such popular hymns as “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee”
— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan