Pastor Preaches In Icy Water to Save Souls

John Harper, who was born May 29, 1872, grew up in a solid Christian family and confessed Jesus Christ as his Savior at age thirteen. He began to preach about four years later by going down the streets in his village, entreating the villagers to be reconciled with God. Thus began Harper’s life-calling to spread God’s Word.

He preached the Gospel on street corners for the next five to six years and worked in a mill during the day. The Rev. E. A. Carter of Baptist Pioneer Mission in London took him in, and Harper was then able to devote his energies to the evangelizing work he loved. He first did ministry work in Govan, Scotland; but, it wasn’t long before he became the pastor of his own church in Glasgow in 1896. Today it is known as the Harper Memorial Baptist Church. The congregation started with twenty-five members and and thirteen years later had grown to over five hundred members. During this time Harper married and was blessed with a beautiful little girl named Annie Jessie and nicknamed Nana.

He preached regularly in various churches in Scotland and then became the pastor of Walworth Road Baptist Church in London. His preaching ability and skill became widely known, and in the fall of 1911 John Harper was invited to preach a revival in Chicago at the church founded by Dwight L. Moody. The revival did so well that the next spring he was invited to accept the pastorate of the Moody Church in Chicago.

Harper, who was now thirty-nine, widowed and father to his six-year-old daughter, decided to travel to America on the RMS Titanic with his daughter and his adult niece, Jessie W. Leitch. It was the maiden voyage of the 46,328 ton ship and the pride of the White Star Steamship Line. At that time it was the largest ship afloat. Today’s ships dwarf the Titantic, as currently some are nearly five times larger. For example, the Royal Caribbean “Harmony of the Seas” at 226,963 tons is one of the largest cruise ships ever. It had its maiden voyage on May 22, 2016.

The year the Titanic sailed was 1912. The captain ignored warnings about ice in the North Atlantic and pressed on with little worry. All thought the ship could not sink. On April 14, 1912, about four days into its voyage and about three hundred miles south of Nova Scotia and one thousand miles from its destination of New York City, the ship hit an iceberg. It was approaching midnight when that iceberg scraped the ship’s starboard side and ripped open six watertight compartments. The sea poured in, and the “unsinkable” ocean liner soon began its descent down into the cold waters.

The Lord may have prepared John Harper for that fateful night, because he had nearly drowned on three previous occasions. Once, when he was just two and a half years old, he fell into a well and fortunately was resuscitated by his mother. On another occasion, at age twenty-six, he was swept out to sea by a strong ocean current. He almost drowned a third time at age thirty-two when he was aboard a leaking ship in the Mediterranean.

The Titanic had only twenty lifeboats, just enough to accommodate one-third of the 2,200 passengers and crew. The weather was calm but the waters were cold. In fact, the water was only about twenty-eight degrees — cold enough for fresh water to freeze.

Amid all the commotion aboard the sinking Titantic, Pastor John Harper found a place on a lifeboat for his daughter. He lovingly kissed her good-bye, told her she would see him again someday, and then dove into the night’s icy cold waters of the North Atlantic.

That night over 1,500 people went into the frigid waters and drowned. John Harper was seen swimming from one lifeboat to another pleading for people to accept and believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. One survivor witnessed that at least one person accepted the invitation.

Within three hours the massive ship slipped beneath the waves and sank.

Dr. Erwin Lutzer, former Senior Pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago and now Pastor Emeritus, once asked, “You may may be wondering, why does God allow such calamities as the sinking of the Titantic? We might wonder if it had been better if Harper had lived to preach at The Moody Church and other venues rather than be among those who perished on the Titanic. But, God knows best. A hundred years after his death, we are still benefitting from the lasting effects of those final moments before he sank into the ocean. He left an example for tens of thousands of us who would never have heard of him if he had survived. God sees the big picture; we see but a small slice of time.”

Many think that earthquakes, droughts, floods, famines and disasters like “911” or Hurricane Katrina are not part of God’s plan for the world. In fact, the Bible says that He not only allows them, but causes them.

I form the light and create darkness,

I bring prosperity and create disaster.

I, the LORD, do all these things. Isaiah 45:7 NIV

When you think about it, the flood that Noah experienced destroyed the entire world. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with fire and brimstone! Without the misery and suffering in Egypt as slaves, the Hebrews might not have experienced the Exodus. Without the holocaust there may not have been the emigration of Jews back to Israel.

Why? Maybe disasters are warnings. They certainly can be part of God’s plan. We don’t understand ANY of this and can only fall back on God’s word:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8 NASB

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 NASB

We take comfort in the fact that He also says,

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 NASB


In GOD”S OTHER WAYS© the Lord uses people like John Harper to spread His Word and to make a difference in the spiritual lives of many, even inspiring us over a hundred years later…to inspire others.