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Sunday, 15 April 2012

A true hero of the Titanic disaster.

I know that I am not alone in never having watched any of the films made about the Titanic disaster - the centenary of which is being remembered today.  I have two basic reasons for my decision to avoid that particular movie - 1. I already know how it ends!; 2. I disagree with Holywood making money out of such a tragic situation.

However, I could add yet another reason - that much of what the film versions are  reported as showing, is far from the truth ("poetic licence" is, doubtless, invoked!); while stories of true heroism are simply ignored.  One such, as I was reminded by a very dear friend, last Sunday, concerns a Rev. Mr. John Harper.

John Harper was born in Houston, Renfrewshire, to Christian parents, on May 29th, 1872. It was on the last Sunday of March 1886, when he was thirteen years old, that he received Jesus as the Lord of his life. He began to preach about four years later, at the ripe old age (!) of 17, by going down to the streets of his village and pouring out his soul in earnest entreaty for men to be reconciled to God.
As John Harper's life unfolded, one thing was apparent - he was consumed by the word of God. When asked by various ministers what his doctrine consisted of, he was known to reply, simply, "The Word of God"! After five or six years of toiling on street corners preaching the gospel and working in a mill during the day, he was taken in by Rev. E. A. Carter of Baptist Pioneer Mission in London, England. This set John free to devote his whole time of energy to the preaching of the Gospel in the Govan area of Glasgow.  Before long, he founded a church (now known as Harper Memorial Baptist Church), in Glasgow.  By the time he left, 13 years later, the fellowship had grown, numerically, from an initial membership of just 25 members, to more than 500. During this time he had married but, sadly, his wife died giving birth to their only child, Nina (Nana).

It was the night of April 14, 1912. The RMS Titanic sailed swiftly on the bitterly cold ocean waters heading unknowingly into the pages of history. On board this luxurious ocean liner were many rich and famous people. At the time of the ship's launch, it was the world's largest man-made moveable object. At 11:40 p.m. on that fateful night, an iceberg scraped the ship's starboard side, showering the decks with ice and ripping open six watertight compartments. The sea-water poured in.

Among the passengers were John Harper; his much-loved daughter, now six years of age; and his niece, Jessie Leitch, who acted as nanny to his daughter. John was now pastor of Walworth Road Baptist Church in London, and was travelling to Chicago to preach in the well-known Moody Church.  According to documented reports, as soon as it was apparent that the ship was going to sink, John immediately took his daughter, and her nanny, to a lifeboat. It is reasonable to assume that this widowed preacher could, himself have easily got on board this boat to safety.  However, such a thought never seems to have crossed his mind. He bent down and kissed his precious little girl and, looking into her eyes, he told her that she would see him again someday. The flares going off in the dark sky above reflected the tears on his face as he turned and headed towards the crowd of desperate humanity on the sinking ocean liner.

As the rear of the huge ship began to lurch upwards, it was reported that Harper was seen making his way up the deck yelling, "Women, children, and unsaved, into the lifeboats!" It was only minutes later that the Titanic began to rumble deep within. Most people thought it was an explosion although, in fact, the ship was literally breaking in half. At this point, many people jumped off the decks and into the icy, dark waters below. John Harper was one of these people.

That night 1528 people went into the frigid waters. John Harper was seen swimming frantically to people in the water leading them to Jesus before hypothermia became fatal. Swimming up to one young man who had climbed up on a piece of debris, Rev. Harper asked him, between breaths, "Are you saved?" The young man replied that he was not.

Harper then tried to lead him to Christ only to have the young man who was near shock, reject the offer of salvation. John took off his life jacket and threw it to the man and said, "Here then, you need this more than I do..." and swam away to other people. A few minutes later Harper swam back to the young man and, this time, succeeded in leading him to the Saviour. Of the 1528 people that went into the water that night, six were rescued by the lifeboats. One of them was the young man on the debris.

Four years later, at a survivors' meeting, this young man stood up and, in tears, recounted that after having led had led him to Christ, Mr. Harper had tried to swim back to help other people yet, because of the intense cold, had grown too weak to swim. His last words before going under in the icy ocean, were: "Believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved."  I'm not sure why the film-makers appear to have ignored this man.  However, this servant of God did what he had to do.  He gave up his life so that others could be saved.

Jesus, said: "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends..."  John Harper was truly a hero of the Titanic!

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