“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:12.

James Cameron’s “Titanic” is an epic, action-packed romance set against the ill-fated maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic; the pride and joy of the White Star Line which ultimately carried over 1,500 people to their death in the ice cold waters of the North Atlantic in the early hours of April 15, 1912. While this is not our movie this week, there is an example of “20 seconds of insane courage” you won’t see in the movie Titanic. That example is Jack Harper.

John Harper was aboard the Titanic when she set sail from Southampton, England, on her maiden voyage. An evangelist originally from Glasgow, Scotland, he was well known throughout the United Kingdom as a charismatic, passionate speaker who led many to Christ. In 1912, Reverend Harper received an invitation to speak at the Moody Church in Chicago. 

Some of the wealthiest people in the world were aboard. While many passengers spoke of business deals, acquisitions and material desires, John Harper was diligently sharing the love of Christ with others.

On the evening of April 14, John Harper put his daughter to bed and read his devotions as he did every night. At 11:40 pm, the Titanic struck an iceberg. The “unsinkable” ship was doomed. Chaos ensued. It all happened so fast. But John Harper’s response left an historic example of courage and faith. Harper awakened his daughter, picked her up and wrapped her in a blanket before carrying her up to the deck. There he kissed her good-bye and handed her to a crewman who put her into lifeboat 11. Harper knew he would never see his six year old daughter again.

Harper then gave his life jacket to a fellow passenger, ending any chance of his own survival. From a survivor we learn that he was calling out, “Women and children and unsaved people into the lifeboats.” So he understood that there was a more important thing than surviving that terrible disaster. He understood that there were those who were unprepared to face eternity. Survivors reported seeing him on the upper deck on his knees, surrounded by terrified passengers, praying for their salvation.

At 2:40 am, the Titanic disappeared beneath the North Atlantic. John Harper was fighting for his life in the icy water. He managed to find a piece of floating wreckage to hold onto. Quickly he swam to every person he could find, urging those about him to put their faith in Jesus Christ. John Harper was moving around as best he could, speaking to as many people as possible. His question was, “Are you saved?” then as rapidly as he could he explained the gospel.

Soon John Harper succumbed to the icy sea. But even in his last moment, this tireless man of undying faith continued his life pursuit of winning lost souls. This is an example of thousands of seconds of insane courage driven by a love of the Savior and his fellow man. 

The story of John Harper aboard the Titanic is told in the book, The Titanic’s Last Hero, published by Moody Adams.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can rob us of 20 seconds of insane courage? 
  2. When something awful happens in your life, do you most commonly assume that the experience is primarily for your benefit or development?  Is your first question, “how is this struggle/hardship making me better/holier/deeper?”
  3. The John Harper story should be a reminder to care for all around us. Everyone matters to God. Everyone’s life has value.  Everyone you see is someone the Son of God felt was worth dying for. This should motivate us to care for the marginalized around us. Who in our life do we need to talk to?
  4. Pray and ask God to give us a heart and a passion for those who are far from the heart of God.