Sep 25, 2012

The hero of the Titanic no-one remembers

The closing story of my sermon from Sunday evening and in particular Philippians 1:12…

I want to leave you with the story, the true story of the man who advanced the gospel even on the deck of the titanic. The story is itself told in this book The Titanic’s Last Hero by Moody Adams.

On the night that the Titanic sunk, and those 1500 lives were lost, the widower John Harper was travelling with his 6 year old daughter Nana en route to Chicago.  Harper was also a Christian, and a church minister on his way to Chicago to preach at Moody Chapel.

When the iceberg struck and the evacuations began, Harper immediately took his daughter to a lifeboat. He bent down and having kissed his little girl, he said goodbye, telling her that she would see him again someday.

As the waters rose and the ship began to lurch upwards, accounts tell of how little Harper thought of his own situation instead his concern were others in danger of death who did not know Christ.  Perhaps he could have pleaded to accompany his daughter who was otherwise orphaned but accounts tell of how he choose to spend those final hours seeking to save others. He was seen making his way up the deck yelling, “Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats!”

On that fateful night 1528 people went into the freezing waters. Survivors tell of how John Harper could be seen swimming desperately between those in the waters talking to them of Christ and seeking to lead them to faith in him in their dying moments. He  swam up to one young man who had climbed up on a piece of debris and asked him between breaths, “Are you saved?” The young man replied that he was not.

Harper tried to lead him to Christ but the man refused him. Harper responded by taking off his life jacket, throwing it to the man saying, “Here then, you need this more than I do…” Harper swam away to seek to lead other dying men to Christ. Amazingly, a few minutes later Harper swam back to the young man and succeeded in leading him to faith in Christ.

You might ask how we know of what happened in that conversation between two dying men. Of the 1528 people in those freezing waters only six were rescued by the lifeboats, remarkably one of them was the young man. Four years later, at a survivors’ meeting, he spoke of how Harper had led him to faith in Christ.  He also described how  Harper had tried to swim back to help other people, before finally succumbing through fatigue and the intense cold. Harper’s last words before his death in those North Atlantic waters were, “Believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”

God has you where he wants you. For Paul that was a prison cell in a Roman jail. For Harper it was on-board the Titanic and both men knew that God had them where he wanted them so that the gospel may advance.

To live is Christ, to die is gain

The book’s tribute continues

While the flames of other ambitions flickered and died, John Harper’s burned even brighter as he sank into a watery grave. When death forced others to face the folly of life’s pursuits, John Harper’s goal of winning men to Jesus Christ became more vital as he breathed his final breaths.

(HT: Gerard Chrispin and his commentary Philippians for today: Priorities from Prison in which I found this remarkable story.)

1 Comment

  • Thanks for posting this Neil.

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