In 1912 the Titanic, the largest, most luxurious, and most advanced ship of its time, sank on its maiden voyage, taking the lives of 1,514 passengers. Though the disaster occurred over one hundred year ago, several movies, documentaries, and books have kept the horror of that night alive in our minds. We’ve all heard of passengers such as “the unsinkable” Molly Brown and the entrepreneur John Jacob Astor IV. But one of the most astonishing stories from the Titanic has received little press.
It’s the story of Pastor John Harper, a widower who was travelling with his six-year-old daughter at the invitation of the great Moody Church in Chicago. Not only was he to preach there, he intend to accept the church’s offer to become their next pastor. His hopes were high, and it seemed he had a brilliant future ahead.
After the ship hit the iceberg and it became apparent that it would sink, Harper got his daughter safely aboard a lifeboat. It’s likely he could have joined her, being her only parent, but he chose to stay aboard the sinking ship because he knew that with this disaster, God had given him an urgent message.
Harper immediately began to go from one person to another, telling them about Christ’s love and urging them to accept Him. He shouted for Christians to let the unsaved fill the lifeboats so that would live to come to belief. When one angry man rejected the message, Harper removed his own life vest and gave it to him, saying, “You need this more than I do.”
Harper was still actively pressing his urgent evangelism when the ship tipped upward, wretched in half, and slipped beneath the frigid North Sea. Even then Harper did not stop. Seeing the many passengers struggling in the water with little chance of rescue, he swam to as many as he could, urging them to accept Christ’s loving offer until hypothermia finally overcame him.
Four years later, at a Titanic survivors meeting in Ontario, one survivor told the story of his own encounter with John Harper. He was clinging to a piece of flotsam when Harper swam to him and urged him to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The man rejected the offer and Harper swam away. But soon Harper came around again, and this time, knowing death to be only minutes away, the man gave his life to Christ. Moments afterwards, he watched the near-freezing waters finally take Harper’s life just as a returning lifeboat approached to rescue him. At the conclusion of his story, he said simply, “I am the last convert of John Harper.”
The titanic left England with three classes of passengers aboard. But when accounting for their fate, the White Star Line set up a board listing two classes: KNOWN TO BE SAVED and KNOWN TO BE LOST. These categories provided a fitting analogy for what John Harper already knew. There are only two classes of people in this world: those who have chosen to accept Christ and will spend eternity with God in heaven, and those who have not chosen Him and will not.
Which class are you in?