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John’s Watery Grave Into Glory

  • Brandy Davis TOS Magazine Contributing Writer
  • Published Apr 12, 2013
John’s Watery Grave Into Glory

On April 15, 1912, the infamous ship named Titanic struck an iceberg and sank to the floor of the Atlantic Ocean within two and a half hours. This tragic event left its passengers screaming for help and trying to survive in the freezing ocean. To stay afloat, many of the stranded passengers wore white life jackets while clinging to debris from the ship.

One young man was floating on a piece of wood, and an older man swam up to him. “Are you saved?” the older man asked, desperately.

The man said, “No.”

“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,” the older man cried out to him. Then a wave separated them.

After some time, the older man, struggling as he battled the effects of the frigid temperature, came back to the young man. He said again, “Are you saved?” and the younger man said, “No.” Then the older man said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” as he slowly sank beneath the water.

He never came back up.

Shortly after that, the younger man was rescued and hauled into a lifeboat, but he was barely alive. As he recovered in the next couple of days, he remembered what the older man had said to him. He wanted to know who this man was who had tried to share Jesus with him, and as the days, weeks, and months went by, he found out who the older man was. His name was John Harper.

Many of the survivors recalled hearing John say, as the ship was sinking, “Women, children, and the unsaved into the lifeboats!” One man said that John had asked him if he was saved and, when he replied “no,” John had given his own life jacket to the man, saying, “You need this more than me.”

John was traveling to Chicago with his 6-year-old daughter named Nina and his sister-in-law Jessie Leitch. John’s wife, Annie, had passed away shortly after Nina was born, and Jessie helped out John by being Nina’s nanny. John made sure that they were both safe in lifeboat #11 before he continued to help those around him.

So, who was this John Harper? What made him willing to sacrifice so much that night?  

At age 13, John made a decision that would change him and his way of life from that moment on: he accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior and asked the Lord to forgive him for all of his sins (the bad things he had done). John’s love for the Lord kept growing, and at age 17, he decided to step out in faith and spread the Good News of salvation. He started to go out in the streets and tell people about Jesus, no matter how they responded to him.

Soon, Reverend E. A. Carter noticed John and his love for the Lord. Carter took him under his wing, and shortly after, a church with twenty-five members was established. As John started to preach in the church, one person reportedly said that John “preached for all he was worth.” As word about John spread, more people came to hear this young man preach. When asked what he based his sermons on, he would say, “On the Word of God, of course.”

John would talk to God with great love about everything, because Jesus was John’s best friend. John’s friend, Hugh Gunn, testified that John would “spend whole nights alone in prayer.”

John also reached out to as many people as he could. A friend of his, John Dick, made this statement: “Reclaimed drunkards, gamblers, prize fighters, now enthusiastic workers for God, all praise the Saviour whom they love for the day they came into touch with John Harper. ”

Prior to that fateful night aboard the Titanic, on three separate occasions John had nearly drowned. The first accident occurred when he was 2 years old. John fell into a well, and his mother had to revive him. Then, at age 26, on an occasion when John and his brother, George, were at the coast, they decided to take a swim in the water. They didn’t realize it, but they were stepping into a strong receding tide that took them out to sea! John didn’t know how to swim, but somehow, by the Lord’s help, John and George both got back to shore safely.

The third crisis occurred when John was 32 years old. He was on a ship that had sprung a leak, and after a couple of hours of not knowing what the fate of the ship would be, John and its passengers were rescued. After this scare, John said: “The fear of death did not for one moment disturb me. I believed that sudden death would be sudden glory.”

John’s passion for the Lord overflowed to every part of his life and onto everyone he met. John left such a huge mark that his church decided to name the church after him in the 1920s, when it was renamed Harper Memorial Baptist Church, and that church is still in existence today in Glasgow, Scotland.

John ended one of his sermons with a quote from a man named Joseph Irons: “Thyself I crave, Thy presence is my life, my joy, my heaven, and all without Thyself is dead to me.” And that is exactly how John Harper lived his life. John Harper had a wholehearted love for Jesus Christ, and it all started when he was 13 years old.

John Harper: A Timeline of Events

  • May 29, 1872, born in Houston, Renfrewshire
  • March 1886, became a Christian (age 13)
  • 1890, started preaching in the streets (age 17)
  • Mid-1890s, met Reverend E. A. Carter, who helped him to go into ministry full-time
  • 1904, married Annie Bell
  • 1906—birth of Nina, followed by Annie’s death a few days later
  • April 1912, John and Nina boarded Titanic
  • April 14, 1912, Titanic struck an iceberg. That night, John drowned after he selflessly helped others and preached the Gospel until he exhausted all physical strength and entered into “sudden glory.”


  • The Titanic’s Last Hero by Moody Adams

Brandy Davis has been a Christian since she was 15 and continues to desire to glorify the Lord. She is married to her best friend, Clay, and they reside in Washington State.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Publication date: April 15, 2013