John Harper was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1872. He was raised in a Christian home, and at the age of 14, he became a Christian himself. From that day on, he began to tell others about Christ. In September of 1896, Harper started his own church. He pastored that church for 13 years and in that time it grew from 25 to 500 members. But also during this time, he was married and widowed. Before she died, his wife gave birth to a girl that they named Nana.
While pastoring a church in London, Harper continued to diligently and zealously evangelize. Moody Church in Chicago recognized Harper’s overwhelming passion for evangelism, and asked him to come to America for a series of talks. Those meetings produced much fruit and a few years later, they asked him to come back again. Harper boarded a ship at Southampton, England, for the trip to America with his daughter Nana. The ship John Harper and his daughter were on was called the Titanic.
Harper felt the ship hit the iceberg around midnight, and as a precaution, he put his daughter in a lifeboat with her cousin. Harper then waited for a lifeboat with the other men on board after the women and children were all loaded. However, like most men on the Titanic, John Harper found himself without a lifeboat and fighting for his life in the frigid waters of the Atlantic. How did John Harper spend his dying breaths? The answer was given at a prayer meeting that was held in Hamilton, Ontario months after Titanic’s demise. A young Scotsman stood up in tears and told of the story of how he was converted. He explained that he had been on the Titanic the night it hit the iceberg. He had been clinging to a piece of floating debris. “Suddenly,” he said, “a wave brought a man near. The man was none other than the well-known evangelist, John Harper. He, too, was holding a piece of wreckage.”
“He called out, ‘Man, are you saved?'”
“No, I am not,” I replied.
“He shouted back, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.'”
“The waves took the Harper away, but a little later, he was washed back beside me again.”
“Are you saved now?” he called out.
“No,” I answered. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”
“Then, losing his hold on the wood, the Harper sank. And there alone in the night with two miles of water under me I trusted in Christ as my savior. I am John Harper’s last convert.”
This is an amazing story in the midst of a horrific tragedy. It is testament to both the immeasurable grace of God, and a picture of a faithful evangelist. John Harper was faithful to the gospel until his death. Harper desired to use his dying breath to call sinners to Jesus. Now he is with Christ in heaven! Today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives, may we not be cowards for the gospel. But may we have a passion for evangelism like Harper that consumes our every thought and deed in times of prosperity and in times of turmoil and tragedy. May we be like John Harper. May we give every ounce and strength of our being to the Kingdom of Christ. For it is not our will, but His will be done.
We only get one life, and it will soon pass. Only what is done for Christ will last.
*Story of John Harper taken from the book The Gospel & Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever
Evan Knies is an undergraduate student at Boyce College where he studies Biblical and Theological Studies. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife, Lauren. You can follow him on Twitter @Evan_Knies.