Christians You Should Know: John Harper April 12, 2023

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“…Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…” – Acts 16:31

A Snapshot of the Life of John Harper:

Born: May 29, 1872, in Houston, Scotland

Died: April 14, 1912, in the Atlantic Ocean

Hero of the Titanic. Harper was converted at age 13, on March 28, 1886. From 1897-1910, he pastored in Govan, a suburb of Glasgow, where the church grew from 25 to nearly 500. That church was renamed the Harper Memorial Baptist Church. In 1905, his health broke and his wife died in 1906. Yet he was always bright and joyful. In 1910, he became pastor of Walworth Road Church, London. In 1911, he conducted the best meetings at Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church since Moody’s ministry and was invited back for three months of ministry. En route, the night before the Titanic sank, he was seen on the deck seeking to lead a young man to Christ. That night, when 1,522 drowned and 712 were saved, it was Harper who ordered men to do their best for the women and children and look out for others. For 50 minutes of terror, with many crying for help, John Harper asked many, “Are you saved?” One, who was rescued clinging to a board, was saved both ways. Later he testified in Hamilton, Ontario, that he was Harper’s last convert, before Harper himself drowned. (Excerpt taken from the Reese Chronological Encyclopedia of Christian Biographies. Used by permission.)

A Spiritual Application for Our Lives:

Few people have heard of the remarkable life of John Harper. Fewer still have heard the testimony of Harper’s courageous death. The account of the Titanic is a remarkable tale. It has well been noted that the Titanic had three classes of passengers. Directly after the Titanic sank, there were only two categories given by the White Star Line – “KNOWN TO BE SAVED” and “KNOWN TO BE LOST.” Wealth, influence, power, pleasure, fame, and work are all worthless in death. Eternally, every person will either be saved or lost. Knowing this, John Harper spent his life proclaiming the only message of salvation. The final cry of Harper’s dying lips was “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.

Pastor John Harper was no stranger to the dangers of drowning. John had nearly drowned three times already. Understandably, Harper was deathly afraid of water, because he could not swim. But he was not afraid of death. Nor was he afraid to boldly proclaim the gospel. At age 17, he began preaching Christ on the streets. However, this was not a passing zeal; Harper dedicated his entire adult life to the work of the gospel. It is recorded that he would sometimes spend an entire night praying for every member of his church by name.

Harper and his daughter were onboard the Titanic so John could preach at Moody Church, in Chicago. Harper preached there the previous year, and God blessed him so tremendously that the two-week meeting lasted for over 2 months. Fearing a mishap, a dear friend offered to pay for his passage on a different ship; yet, Harper declined. Doubtless, God put him there as a demonstration of His mercy to those onboard the Titanic. God knew John Harper would be a faithful witness till the end. What about you? Could God entrust you with such a great purpose?

Friend, allow this remarkable life to stir and challenge you today. May we all determine to live lives for the gospel! John Harper spent his final hour struggling to stay afloat and declaring the gospel to everyone he came upon. His final evening on earth was spent on deck pleading with a young man to put his faith in Christ. Proclaiming Christ with his final breath was the expected end of one who spent his very life proclaiming that message.

Was it in vain one might ask? Simply ask George Henry Cavell – he was John Harper’s last convert. There in the freezing water, after Harper sank beneath the surface, Cavell called on the Lord for salvation. It is never too late to trust Christ. Today “is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). However, it is never too early to begin sharing the gospel. Begin today!

A Suggestion for Further Reading…

The Titanic’s Last Hero – Moody Adams, 2012

The Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters – Marshall Logan (This classic work details many fascinating details of the events surrounding the tragic shipwreck. You can find a wonderful reprint featuring excerpts on the life of Harper here.)

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