Today marks the 103rd anniversary of the most famous boating accident in history. On April 14, 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg at 11:40pm. It sank into its watery grave on April 15, 1912 at 2:20am. The vessel settled 13,000 feet below the surface 400 miles off of Newfoundland, Canada. The wreckage, discovered in 1985, sits as a haunting monument to the ship that was hailed as the unsinkable ship. The maximum capacity on the lifeboats was not enough to rescue everyone aboard. As we now know, death awaited 1500 of the 2200 aboard that fateful night. While the ship was sinking, the good news of Jesus Christ was preached to those on board in the waning minutes of life. A man named John Harper used the last moments of his life to talk to others about their eternal destiny. Here’s the account as published online by Dan Graves, “While Titanic Sank, John Harper Preached.” Even though 1500 people entered eternity that night, perhaps some received the gift of eternal life as a result of one man’s faithful witness of Christ’s love to those who were perishing.
The clear April night sky was filled with sparkling stars as the largest and finest steamship in the world sped through the calm seas of the icy North Atlantic. Many of the passengers had gone to bed, but some still could be found in the lounges, enjoying the Titanic’s luxury. No one was alarmed by the slight jar felt around 11:15, but many noticed when they no longer felt the vibrations of the engines.
Ignoring iceberg warnings, the Titanic had been steaming full speed ahead. Suddenly she struck a large iceberg which ripped her side. Within fifteen minutes the captain realized the danger of the situation, and the wireless operator put out a call for assistance. Sailors made lifeboats ready and ordered women and children to get into them first (Christian culture had stamped the ideas of chivalry into men, making them willing to give up their lives for women and children as their protectors, something rarely seen in other cultures). There were 12 honeymooning couples on board the ship. Though all of the brides were saved, only one of the grooms survived.
The captain ordered the band to play to keep up the spirits of the passengers. It began playing a rag-time tune, but soon was playing hymns.
There were only twenty lifeboats on the huge ocean liner– barely enough for 1/3 of the passengers and crew. Not all of them could be lowered. All 85 engineers continued to work to keep the ship afloat as long as possible. At the end many people knelt together in prayer until the waters covered them.
Throughout the mournful, evacuation, with loved ones being tearfully separated, the band continued to play. There is some dispute about what was played that night. Several people in the life boats heard “Nearer My God to Thee.”
One of the passengers traveling on the ship was evangelist John Harper. He put his six-year old daughter into a life boat and then ran through the ship warning others of the danger and talking to them about the eternal destiny of their souls. When he was finally forced to jump into the icy water, he clung to a piece of wreckage and asked another man “Are you saved?” When the man answered no, John said to him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
When the Titanic sank early in the morning on this day, April 15, 1912, John Harper was among the 1,522 people who died. The band went down with the ship. The last hymn they played was “Autumn,” which concludes with the prayer
Hold me up in mighty waters
Keep my eyes on things above,
Righteousness, divine Atonement,
Peace, and everlasting Love.