June 24, 2017

Women & Children First

Women & Children First

Posted in The Faith of Us Fathers

April 14 this year marks exactly 90 years since hundreds of men made a self-conscious decision to die rather than let their wives and their children face death in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. The decision was not made because of a command by Captain Edward John Smith of the Titanic, although the words were spoken: it was a principle understood by virtually all on board. It constituted part of the world view of all those people, even coming as they did from very different educational backgrounds, social strata and economic groups. It was not a concept many had ever thought about before, but one they had simply absorbed from the fundamentally Christian societies in which they were reared.

Much is made of the class distinctions on board, and indeed they existed; the well-to-do of the day did not want to associate with the poor immigrants who in fact made up the “bread & butter” business of the ocean liners then. But even the First Class passengers were not kicking up their heels the way we today would imagine them doing at the time the Titanic struck the iceberg that Sunday night. The ship did not have a ballroom, and on British liners dancing was frowned upon on Sundays.1

It makes you wonder if even those pleasure-seeking people of 1912 were from the same planet as we today. Consider how men, wealthy men from the First Class section, stood back to let third-class washer-women immigrants claim those scarce seats in the few lifeboats. Consider how husbands lifted their wives and children into the lifeboats, looking into their eyes and kissing them for what they knew would be the last time on earth, then stood back to let others flee to safety.

Accounts indicate that very few of the men even tried to get into the lifeboats, and most were turned back with a glance or a word. Many of the wives, especially the older couples, decided to stay together, allowing the younger ladies to go. They would rather pass from this life together than be separated at that late date in their lives. This was true across social boundaries. One newlywed couple, on their honeymoon, decided to remain together as well. For better or for worse…2

One widower, Dr Robert J. Bateman, escorted his sister-in-law to a lifeboat and said, “Don’t be nervous, Annie. This will test our faith. I must stay and let the women go. If we never meet again on this earth, we will meet again in heaven.” He threw his handkerchief into the descending lifeboat saying, “Put that around your throat. You’ll catch cold.” Earlier that evening he had conducted the only religious service aboard that ship of 2,207 people, concluding with his favourite hymn “Nearer my God to Thee”.3

Dr. Bateman collected about fifty men on the stern of the ship and told them to prepare for death. He led them in saying the Lord’s Prayer.3 About this time a string quartet was playing at the request of one of the senior officers. They had played ragtime and livelier selections earlier, before they knew the extent of their situation. The leader of the quartet then dismissed the rest, for their task was hopeless. Alone he began to play the hymn he’d done at the religious service, “Nearer my God to Thee”. All of his companions returned and joined him. They played hymn upon hymn, turning people’s hearts to come to grips with the fact that they were standing on the brink of eternity.1,2,3

Doug Phillips of Vision Forum in San Antonio, Texas, told the Titanic story of “women and children first” to an audience of 200 Japanese Christians in March 2001, emphasising that this was once an unquestioned principle of Western society, mirroring the fact that Jesus Christ is the protector and defender of His bride, the Church. A woman came to speak to him afterwards. “She was Cantonese and had left communist China for freedom in Japan. She looked at me for a while without speaking, but her lips were quivering, and it was obvious she was trying to hold back the tears. ‘I was never told,’ she said. ‘No one has ever told me that men are to protect women… It is such a beautiful thought, but no one has ever told me this.’”4

The religious and philosophical views common in east Asia definitely reflect a different world view. According to Phillips the Japanese Ambassador wrote the following just after the Titanic disaster to the American Ambassador: “In our country it would have been men first, children second, and women last.”4

John Harper had only just turned 40 years old when he boarded the Titanic with his only daughter, six-year-old Nana. Maybe the Lord had been preparing him for an icy, watery grave, for John almost drowned several times during his life. When he was two and a half, he fell into a well but was resuscitated by his mother. At the age of 26 he was swept out to sea by a rip and barely survived, and at 32 he faced death on a leaking ship in the Mediterranean.5

When their hopeless situation became obvious, this widower immediately took his daughter to a lifeboat. The flares going off in the dark sky above reflected the tears on his face as he turned and headed towards the crowd of desperate humanity on the sinking ocean liner. As the rear of the huge ship began to lurch upwards, it was reported that Harper was seen making his way up the deck yelling, “Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats!” Minutes later the Titanic began to rumble deep within. What people thought was an explosion was actually the gargantuan ship breaking in half, just between the third and fourth smokestacks. At this point, many people jumped off the decks and into the icy, dark waters below. John Harper was one of these people.5

That night 1528 people went into the frigid waters. Only six were picked up by the life boats. One was a young man who had climbed onto a piece of debris. At a survivors’ meeting in 1916 this young man stood up and in tears told how John Harper was swimming frantically to people in the water, leading them to Jesus before the hypothermia became fatal. He told how when he replied “No” to Harper’s entreaty to receive Jesus Christ as his Saviour, John Harper took off his own life jacket and threw it to the man saying, “Here then, you need this more than I do,” and swam away to other people. By God’s grace, a few minutes later Harper swam back to the young man and succeeded in leading him to salvation. He recounted how Harper had tried to swim back to help other people, yet because of the intense cold had grown too weak to swim. His last words before going under were, “Believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”5

It is a stirring thing, Brothers, to hear of men such as Bateman and Harper who, when the chips are down, come through in stirling form. But know that these men did not appear suddenly from nowhere as do imaginary heroes such as Superman or Batman. No, these men had already produced track records of service to others, selflessness and a total focus on Jesus Christ and His word as the only source of truth and reliable guidance for life and death.

Robert Bateman was the founder of the Central City Mission in Jacksonville, Florida, a minister who was not afraid to get his hands dirty. He came from England to personally lay the bricks of the Mission in the city where drunken sailors poured into tattoo parlours, bars and *****houses. While sharing the Gospel, he provided thousands of meals, clothed the needy, visited those in jail and housed the homeless. He was called “the man who distributed more human sunshine than any other in Jacksonville.” He had returned briefly to England to study methods of Christian social work.3

John Harper was born to a pair of solid Christian parents on May 29th, 1872; became a Christian at 13; and began to preach at 17 by going down to the streets of his village and pouring out his soul in earnest entreaty for men to be reconciled to God. He did this for at least five years while working in the mill during the day. He was then taken in by Rev. E. A. Carter of Baptist Pioneer Mission in London, England, which set Harper free to devote his whole time and energy to the work so dear to his heart. John Harper soon started his own church in September of 1896, now known as the Harper Memorial Church. This church started with just 25 members and grew to over 500 members when he left 13 years later.5

Bateman and Harper were well used to giving all to others, and when the chips were down, they did what they had trained themselves to do: give their all to meet the situation, trusting wholly in Jesus Christ for the strength to persevere under trial.

Brothers and Sisters, we are under trial now. Surely you all perceive it. New Zealand society is rabidly anti-Christian, and the forces arrayed against the family are gaining in strength and numbers. My own MP, Steve Maharey, is talking about increasing the compulsory schooling age to 19. Others have suggested it be extended at the younger end down to three. Our present government is committed to pouring all kinds of money into ECE, early childhood educational enterprises, to encourage more and more parents to leave their pre-schoolers with well-funded and credentialed strangers.

Doug Phillips points out the obvious fact that “women and children first” is not inculcated in state schools. He says a major poll conducted several years ago saw boys declaring they would never give up their seat on a lifeboat for a woman. “They want their rights,” one boy said. “Let them fight for their own lifeboat seats. They won’t get mine.”4 So many state schools are no more than institutionalised places of mediocrity and brutality where parents who dare to speak up are ostracised and their children victimised…..by the teachers, now, as well as by the playground bullies! I hear this kind of thing from different sets of such parents every week, and the stories are beyond belief. The March 2002 edition of Pro-Life Times has an interesting statistic: 74% of girls who lost their virginity said they did so at home…..around 4pm…..just after school and before parents came home from work.

We are thrilled our children no longer have to attend such places. But we all know that home education is not a piece of cake. We meet plenty of trials here too. The question is: are we up to the trials? What kind of fathers do we turn out to be when the chips are down, when the acid is poured on? If it hasn’t happened yet, be assured: it will. Are we committed to Christ and His word? We may be pretty consistent at following Biblical patterns when we have time to deliberate on an issue. But are we disciplined in heart and mind to automatically react in Biblical ways? We’ll only know that when the crisis happens…and then it is too late if we get it wrong.

The time we have with our children is short. The stakes are high…..we’re talking about their lives. We cannot afford to muck around or be cavalier about it. The spiritual lives of our wives and children must be paramount. Are we, as fathers and husbands, ensuring they are getting spiritually fed and challenged and shepherded to maturity? The local church is only supposed to be supplementary to our primary responsibility in this area……just as we, and not the schools, are primarily responsible for their education. Yes, these things take priority over the footy, the stock cars, the fishing, even the house maintenance and career. Women and children first.

Notes:

1. Titanic Historical Soc. Inc., http://www.titanic1.org/, 7 March 2002.

2. http://www.cfdevotionals.org/devpg99/de990114 , 7 March 2002.

3. http://www.churchlink.com.au/churchlink/worldscope/heroes/bateman.html , 7 March 2002, Source: The Voice of the Martyrs, PO Box 598, Penrith NSW 2751, Australia.

4. E-newsletter from Doug Phillips and The Vision Forum, Inc., 13 Apr 2001, familyvision@visionforum.com

5. “The True Hero of the Titanic”, http://home.earthlink.net/~russgamble/testimonials.html#anchor149574 , 7 March 2002.

From Keystone Magazine
March 2002 , Vol. VIII No. 2
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389
email: craig
@hef.org.nz

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