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John Harper, the Truest Hero of the Titanic

Updated: Jan 26

We all know the story. The Titanic, a British passenger liner, a ship that supposedly even God couldn’t sink, struck an iceberg off Newfoundland on the night of Aprril 14-15, 1912, on her maiden voyage, and sank.

There is part of that story, however, that is not widely known. One of the passengers on the Titanic was a godly and well known Baptist Pastor from Scotland, by the name of John Harper. The Sunday prior to departure, his last sermon preached, there were over 900 people in attendance with standing room only. Harper had recently taken a "short visit" to America to preach at the Moody Church in Chicago, which turned into 3 months by the time he was done. He hadn’t been back in Britain long when he was asked to return and continue his ministry there. He made arrangements for himself and his six year old daughter, Nana, to travel back to America on board the Lusitania. He then decided to delay their departure for a week, so that they could sail on the new ship, the fateful Titanic.

On Sunday April 14th 1912, the day when the iceberg was struck, the weather was fine, the sea calm. Harper attended the church service for the passengers. His niece reported that later that afternoon she saw her Uncle speaking individually to people about their souls. Such was the testimony of his life after conversion at age 14, always seeking lost sheep wherever he went.

The Titanic struck the iceberg at 11:40 pm on April 14th. As the call was issued for passengers to vacate their cabins, Harper wrapped his daughter in a blanket, told her that she would see him again one day, and passed her to one of the crewmen. After watching her safely board one of the lifeboats, he removed his life jacket and gave it to one of the other passengers. One survivor distinctly remembered hearing him shout,

"Women, children and THE UNSAVED into the lifeboats!"

Harper knew that true born again believers were ready to die but the unsaved were not ready.

Harper then ran along the decks pleading with people to turn to Christ and be converted, and with the ship sinking, he called upon the Titanic’s orchestra to play, "Nearer, my God, to Thee." Gathering people around him on deck, he then knelt down, and "with holy joy in his face" raised his arms in prayer. As the ship began to lurch and sink, he jumped into the icy waters and swam frantically to all he could reach, beseeching them to turn to the Lord Jesus and be saved. Finally, as hypothermia set in, John Harper sank beneath the waters and passed into the Lord’s presence; he was 39.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Ps 116:15).

Four years after the Titanic sank, a young Scotsman by the name of Aguilla Webb stood up in a meeting in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and gave the following testimony:

“I am a survivor of the Titanic. When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night, the tide brought Mr. John Harper of Glasgow, also on a piece of wreck, near me. ‘Man,’ he said, ‘Are you saved?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I am not.’ He replied, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ The waves bore him away; but, strange to say brought him back a little later, and he said, ‘Are you saved now?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I cannot honestly say that I am.’ He said again, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,’ and shortly after he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed. I am John Harper’s last convert.” 😢

Apparently God wanted Webb's amazing testimony to be shared, because only seven people were plucked from the icy water that night to join the survivors in the lifeboats. Webb was one of them.

Unfortunately, in the Hollywood movie of the Titanic, nothing was said about John Harper, but he was truly one of its great heroes. In the face of death and drowning, he was concerned about the souls of men and poured out his passion and burden in giving his life to this eternal cause which is greater than anything in this world. Jesus said,

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (Jn 15:13-14).

Are you passionate about souls like brother John Harper was? Do you have a burden for the lost, for the unsaved, which our nations and churches are filled with? People are slamming into a Christ-less eternity of torment in the furnace of fire 🔥🔥, blind and falsely deceived into believing they are okay when they’re not, and what are we doing about it?

“Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; . . . For the love of Christ constraineth us;” (2 Cor 5:11, 14).

How about you? How is it with you? are you born agin? Are you saved? What is your eternal home: heaven or hell? If you don’t know heaven is your home already, you’ve never been born again. Jesus warned,

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:3).

How to be born again is explained in passages such as Isaiah 55:6-7,

“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Every person is unrighteous and wicked (Jer 17:9; Rom 3:10-18), and only true salvation, the new birth, can change that.

Please read here for further information on how you can be saved and have eternal life.
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