Editor’s note: Sunday (April 15) is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.
TAYLORS, S.C. (BP) — It has been 100 years since Titanic, the greatest ship of its time, sank on its maiden voyage, killing more than 1,500 passengers. The “unsinkable ship” had done just that, and on the tragedy’s centennial we stand captivated by the story. Many movies, documentaries and books have familiarized us with some of the passengers, such as entrepreneur John Jacob Astor IV or the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown. Yet one of the supreme stories of the Titanic involves a heroic pastor and his passion to save lives and souls.
When pastor and preacher John Harper and six year old daughter boarded the Titanic it was for the privilege of preaching at one of the greatest churches in America, Moody Church in Chicago, named for its famous founder Dwight L. Moody. The church was anxiously awaiting his arrival not only because of the pending services, but to meet their next pastor, as Harper planned to accept their invitation. Harper was known as an engaging preacher and had pastored two churches in Glasgow and London. His preaching style was suited for an evangelist as testified by the words of another local pastor. “He was a great open-air preacher and could always command large and appreciative audiences. … He could deal with all kinds of interrupters, his great and intelligent grasp of Bible truths enabling him to successfully combat all assailants.”
When the Titanic hit the iceberg, Harper successfully led his daughter to a lifeboat. Being a widower he may have been allowed to join her but instead forsook his own rescue, choosing to provide the masses with one more chance to know Christ. Harper ran person to person, passionately telling others about Christ. As the water began to submerge the “unsinkable” ship, Harper was heard shouting, “women, children, and the unsaved into the lifeboats.” Rebuffed by a certain man at the offer of salvation Harper gave him his own life vest, saying, “you need this more than I do.” Up until the last moment on the ship Harper pleaded with people to give their lives to Jesus.
The ship disappeared beneath the deep frigid waters leaving hundreds floundering in its wake with no realistic chance for rescue. Harper struggled through hyperthermia to swim to as many people as he could, still sharing the Gospel. Harper evidentially would lose his battle with hypothermia but not before giving many people one last glorious Gospel witness.
Four years after the tragedy at a Titanic survivor’s meeting in Ontario, Canada, one survivor recounted his interaction with Harper in the middle of the icy waters of the Atlantic. He testified he was clinging to ship debris when Harper swam up to him, twice challenging him with a biblical invitation to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” He rejected the offer once. Yet given the second chance and with miles of water beneath his feet, the man gave his life to Christ. Then as Harper succumbed to his watery grave, this new believer was rescued by a returning lifeboat. As he concluded his remarks at the Ontario meeting of survivors he simply stated, “I am the last convert of John Harper.”
When the Titanic set sail there were delineations of three classes of passengers. Yet immediately after the tragedy, the White Star Line in Liverpool, England placed a board outside its office with only two classes of passengers reading, KNOWN TO BE SAVED and KNOWN TO BE LOST. The owners of the Titanic had simply reaffirmed what John Harper already knew. There are people who know Christ and will spend eternity with God in heaven and many others who will not.
For us, 100 years after the Titanic, may we be as zealous as Harper was with every opportunity to share Christ with the perishing.
Douglas W. Mize is minister of evangelism and discipleship at Taylors (S.C.) First Baptist Church. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).