Story of Baptist Pastor Harper and Titanic

We all know the story. The Titanic, a British passenger liner, struck an iceberg off Newfoundland on the night of April 14-15, 1912, and sank. There is part of that story, however, that is not widely known.

One of the passengers on the Titanic was a godly Baptist Pastor from Scotland, by the name of John Harper. Harper had recently spent three months ministering at the Moody Church in Chicago, during which time the church had experienced one of the most wonderful revivals in its history. He had not been back in Britain long when he was asked to return and continue his ministry. He quickly made arrangements for himself and his six-year-old daughter, Nana, to travel back to American on board the Lusitania. However, he decided to delay their departure for one week, so that they could sail on a new ship, the Titanic, which was about to make its maiden voyage.

On Sunday the 14th of April 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. It seems he was in the habit of seeking out the lost sheep wherever he went.

The Titanic struck the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912. 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 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 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, 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.

Four years later, a young Scotsman by the name of Aguilla Webb stood up in a meeting in Hamilton, 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.

According to later reports, many saw Pastor Harper, wearing a life jacket, go up and down the decks helping people into the lifeboats. Soon after the ship began to creak and split, throwing people into the bitterly cold waters, Pastor Harper was seen frantically swimming from person to person, leading them to Jesus before hypothermia claimed them, and they slipped into eternity. He came up to one man who was very near shock. Pastor Harper tried to address the matters of his soul, but the man resisted, and the Pastor swam away to others. When he finally came back to the young man, he took off his life jacket, and fastened it around the man saying, “You need this more than I do.” One more time he witnessed to the young man, who finally accepted the gift of salvation.

Of the 1,528 persons who ended up in the water that night, only 6 were rescued by lifeboats. The young man was one of them.