His Last Act

Reverend John Harper of Glasgow, Scotland had spent three months during 1910 helping conduct revival services at The Moody Church in Chicago. He then returned to London, where he served as pastor at Walworth Road Baptist Church, and to his six-year-old daughter, Nan. His wife had died shortly after Nan’s birth, and the couple had no other children. But the response in Chicago to Reverend Harper’s preaching had been overwhelming, and The Moody Church asked him to return for three months. This time, he took Nan and his sister, Jessie Leitch, and together they boarded the Titanic.

john harper, nan, and aunt

John Harper with his daughter Nan and sister Jessie Leitch

When the ship struck the iceberg, Reverend Harper made certain his sister and daughter were put into a lifeboat. According to survivors, he spent the rest of his time on the ship sharing the Gospel with whoever would listen and urging them to commit their lives to the Lord.

The following testimony comes from Encyclopedia Titanica:

“Four years after the Titanic went down, a young Scotchman rose in a meeting in Hamilton, Canada, and said, "I am a survivor of the Titanic. When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night, the tide brought Mr. John Harper, of Glasgow, also on a piece of wreck near me. 'Man,' he said, 'are you saved?' 'No,' I said. 'I am not.' He replied, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.'" "The waves bore him away; but, strange to say brought him back a little later, and he said, 'Are you saved now?' 'No,' I said, 'I cannot honestly say that I am.' He said again, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,' and shortly after he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed. I am John Harper's last convert."”

When Nan Harper and Jessie Leitch were rescued by the Carpathia, they learned of Reverend Harper’s death. A representative from The Moody Church met them in New York and provided clothing and money to allow them to return to Glasgow. Reverend Harper’s body was not recovered.

His faith was passed on to the next generation. Nan Harper grew up and married a pastor. Their daughter and grandchildren were present at the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking in 2012 at Harper Memorial Baptist Church in Glasgow.

A room at The Moody Church is named Harper Hall. Moody’s Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer writes, We might wonder if it had been better if Harper had lived to preach at The Moody Church and other venues rather than be among those who perished on the Titanic. But God knows best. A hundred years after his death, we are still benefitting from the lasting effects of those final moments before he sank into the ocean. He left an example for tens of thousands of us who would never have heard of him if he had survived. God sees the big picture; we see but a small slice of time.”