Baptist is not as well known among us as the Biblical character of that name, of course. He is in fact relatively unknown, and I admit that I keep forgetting his name myself. He is one of the myriad of believers through the ages that has quietly and faithfully rendered service to his Lord.
Brother Harper actually becomes known to Americans first as an effective visiting minister of the Moody Church of Chicago. During his three months of service there, the church experiences unparalleled revival. The congregation is so impressed with this man that they decide to ask him to come again from England, soon. He follows through on that invitation. And his second trip across the Atlantic will be even more eventful than the first.
Accompanied by his 6-year-old daughter, in April of 1912 Harper boards the Titanic on its maiden and final voyage.
After the infamous iceberg has been struck, Harper’s first task is to be sure that daughter Nana is cared for. He wraps her up and passes her on to a member of the crew, who secures her place on one of the lifeboats. We all understand that the number of lifeboats is limited, as the proud creators of the ship could never have believed such a catastrophe would occur.
Nevertheless, thus far the good pastor does only what most all of the men on board are being asked to do: make room in the boats for women and children.
His first step beyond the human call of duty is to add to the announcement that is being made along these lines, that all unsaved should also surely get into those boats. To be sure he is understood, he offers his own life jacket to a fellow passenger.
Now see him scurrying along the decks begging people to come to Christ before it will be everlastingly too late. He gathers people around him and earnestly prays for their salvation. The report is that it is John Harper that asks the Titanic‘s orchestra to play “Nearer, My God, to Thee.”
Now this 39-year-old man of God jumps into the icy waters and begins swimming around to men clutching to this or that piece of the Titanic for dear life. Once more he issues the invitation of Christ to repent and be saved. With his last gasp of life he is telling another of the Saviour.
It was four years later when one saying he was Harper’s final convert, surfaced in a Gospel meeting in Canada. He tells the account of how the pastor swam up to him, asking if he were saved or no. He sadly admitted he was not. The waves bore Harper away, but brought him back another time, when he confronted the dying man yet again with the plight of his soul. Still he had to say he was not secure in Christ. This time, Harper went down, to be with the Lord. The sinner, alone in the night, gave his heart to the Lord. His soul, and then later his life, was rescued from death.