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Harper's Last Convert

Erwin Lutzer, The Moody Church Radio Ministries monthly letter, June, 1998

Let me take you back in time; the date is Wednesday, April 10, 1912, and the world watches in awe as the glamorous Titanic begins her maiden voyage. But, little did the world know that the greatest ship man ever made would be on the bottom of the Atlantic ocean only four days later.

And on that ship, in the second-class section, was a man named John Harper who was coming to America to preach here at Moody Church.

I first heard the phenomenal story of John Harper, many years ago while growing up in Canada. My brother showed me a one-page tract titled I was Harper's Last Convert. It was the story, told by a man, who floated next to Harper briefly in the icy waters of the Atlantic.

If you had been with John Harper on the Titanic that fateful night you would have felt a tremendous jolt when the mighty ship collided with an iceberg on the starboard side of her bow. You would have heard the hull plates buckle as an iceberg tore a 300-foot long gash in the side of the ship.

And you may have even heard the panic in the Captain's voice when he knew his ship was sinking, and he only had enough lifeboats for half of the passengers....

The Captain also knew he had to keep order among the 2,227 people on board. So he asked John Harper to remain on deck and keep peace among the passengers.

If you had been on deck you would have seen families torn apart. Husbands saying goodbye as they watched their wives and children leave on lifeboats. Wives deciding to stay on board to die with their husbands. Children waving goodbye to their parents&md;and praying that they would see each other again.

And you would have seen John Harper kiss his six-year-old daughter, Nana, goodbye and put her safely in a lifeboat.

As the minutes crept by, and all of the lifeboats were gone, 1,521 people were left on board the sinking ship&md;including Harper.

With every minute that passed the deck became steeper as the bow plunged under the water. Finally the ship broke in two, hurling the remaining passengers into the icy depths of the Atlantic.

It is said the ships lights blinked once, then went out, leaving people to freeze to death in the darkness of the Atlantic.

And the few hundred people that were safe in lifeboats could see their husbands, fathers, and many other families as they were shrieking in terror and thrashing in the water trying to gasp for breath.

But, during this horrific tragedy God was at work.

You see, Harper wasn't afraid to die; he knew that he was going to come face to face with his Maker. And he wanted other people to know his Lord and Savior.

So with death lurking over him, Harper yelled to a man in the darkness, "Are you saved?"

"No," replied the man.

"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and ye shall be saved!" Harper screamed as he struggled in the dark, cold, Atlantic.

Then the men drifted apart into the darkness. But later the current brought them back together. Weak, exhausted, and frozen, a dying Harper yelled once more, "Are you saved?"

"No!"

Harper repeated once again, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and ye shall be saved." And with that, Harper slipped down into his watery grave.

The man whom Harper sought to win to Christ was rescued by the S.S. Carpathia. Because of Harper, he dedicated his life to Jesus Christ right there, two miles above the floor of the ocean, and lived to tell people that he was Harper's Last Convert.

It makes me wonder, how many other dying people did Harper convert before he drowned? Harper sacrificed his own life so he could share the plan of salvation with the dying. He was a man who lived and died by his immense faith in Jesus Christ.

There are so many things that come to mind when people speak about the great loss of human life on the Titanic. Some may even ask could it have been avoided?

What if the owner hadn't determined to surprise America by arriving a night early? Or if the Captain hadn't cut the corner on an area of ocean they knew had been dangerous before? Or simply, what if the lookout's binoculars hadn't been missing from the crow's nest?

If only one of these things had not been the case, the Titanic might have been the very definition of luxury, romance, and fortitude.

But those things did happen. I like to ask, what if John Harper hadn't been on board traveling to Moody Church? How many people would have died not knowing that they could be eternally saved?