As a Dying Man to Dying Men: Titanic’s Gospel Hero
Would you give your life to preach? I mean, if you were faced with an actual scenario in which you could choose between living longer or preaching the gospel in that very moment, and thus dying prematurely, what would you do?
John Harper (1872-1912) was a Scottish Baptist pastor whose wife had died leaving him to raise his 6-year-old daughter, Nana. Harper was a gifted preacher and a godly man. His little church in Scotland grew under his ministry from 25 to 500 people. His gifts landed him an invitation to speak in America at Moody Church in Chicago in the 1911. And then he was extended the honor again the following year.
It was this fateful crossing of the Atlantic that would test his mettle in a unique way by providing a choice that most preachers never face, except in the hypothetical bravado of seminary coffee shops.
The ship he was on was the Titanic. As she sank, though women and children were given priority, Harper had the opportunity to board a life-raft, as he was the only guardian of little Nana and his niece, who accompanied him on this voyage. But instead, he gave up his right to life, placed the girls on a life raft and then went back on deck to save souls. In the milieu, his voice thundered an evangelistic message from Acts 16:31 “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
Before the ship broke up and sank, Harper dived into the icy water and swam from one person to another, and with his last breaths proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ to the souls on death’s doorstep, one by one, until hypothermia set in and, unable to stay afloat, he drowned.
John Harper preached that day as we should all preach, every time we ascend the pulpit: as a dying man to dying men.