Most people have seen the movie, Titanic, and its fictional love story about a poor boy, Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), and a rich girl, Rose (Kate Winslet), on an ill-fated ocean voyage. The movie won the 1997 Oscar for Best Picture and its box office sales of over $1.8 billion ranks it as the second most successful movie of all time, behind Avatar.
Hollywood created its own heroes for the movie script, but on April 14, 1912, there undoubtedly were many heroes. One of them was named John Harper.
John Harper, a thirty-nine year old widower and a Baptist preacher, was traveling to Chicago aboard the R.M.S Titanic on its maiden voyage with his six year old daughter, Nana. The Moody Church had scheduled him to preach some evangelistic meetings.
At 11:40 PM, the Titanic hit an iceberg on the starboard side of the ship. As soon as Harper realized the ship was going to sink, he took his daughter to a lifeboat, placed her aboard and said, “Nana, I’ll see you again someday.”
Then, while flares lit up the sky, he marched up and down the decks yelling, “Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats!”
At 2:20 AM, a rumble arose from deep within the ship as it broke in half. Hundreds of people, including Harper, jumped into the 28 degree (-2 C) water as the Titanic slipped into its watery grave.
As soon as Harper hit the surface, he frantically swam from one person to the next, leading them to Jesus before the people succumbed to the icy waters and hypothermia. He asked one young man who was clinging to a piece of wood, “Are you saved?” The young man answered that he was not.
Harper tried to convince the young man, but he refused to listen. Harper took off his life jacket and threw it at the man. “Here then, you need this more than I do,” said Harper as he swam off to other people.
A few minutes later, Harper returned to the man and successfully led him to Christ. Then, Harper attempted to swim to other people, but the icy waters were too much for him. “Believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,” he shouted before he sank under the waters.
Of the 1528 people that went into the icy waters that night, only six were rescued by lifeboats. One of them was this young man who later recounted how Harper had led him to Christ.
Few of us will be thrust into the same circumstances as John Harper was on that fateful night. But still, we need to open our spiritual eyes and really see where our neighbors, family and friends are spiritually at right now.
Visualize each of them frantically attempting to swim in dark, churning waters with 15 million pounds on his back. Do you think any will survive? Don’t be ridiculous, right? Yet, this is the approximate weight of fifty million aborted babies, which is one of our most hideous national sins. Plus, you then need to add a few pounds for the weight of each person’s own sins.
Now, if you could ask each of the struggling swimmers which weight they would first want removed from their backs, what do you think they would say? Probably something like, “If you help remove the fifteen million pounds, I might listen to you about the other weights. Please help me!”
…strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us, looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus…(Hebrews 12: 1-2)
Like John Harper, we need to focus ourselves on what’s needed now. He did not waste time swimming around in the icy waters talking about his Baptist credentials nor the five pillars of Calvinism. He asked one question: “Are you saved?” He acted on what was the most important need at that tragic moment on April 14, 1912, and we must do the same now.
Yes, there are those who are crossing their fingers and praying for a national revival. And if the Lord sends one, hallelujah, thank You Jesus, I will join in. But I’ve listened to these prophecies about a soon-coming revival which will wash our nation clean of sin for the last twenty-five years. It hasn’t arrived as yet. So, do we keep walking down the same path for twenty-five or ten or five more years, hoping for a revival?
Not me! I’m jumping off this path and walking on a new one.
For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matthew 24: 37-39)
I believe the most important need at this point in America’s history is for us to intercede, fast and do acts of mercy for our national sins. And that means, we need to open up the wounds of the Vietnam War.
(Continued in Part 4)
 The Titanic’s Last Hero: Story About John Harper, Moody Adams, Olive Press (1997).