Special Guest Post by Alex Carmichael
Last week, when we began our study on Lessons from the Titanic, we spoke about the people on board the Titanic. We looked at how even the wealthiest of men couldn’t buy their way onto a lifeboat, even though they could have bought the entire Titanic many times over. We also looked at the importance of what real wealth is, and saw that in the life of Pastor John Harper. We also saw how nothing is worth exchanging your soul for the things of this world, or in the trade-offs we may make that keep us from living the abundant life that Jesus promises us when we take up our cross and follow Him. This morning, we’re going to look at the Titanic herself, from the moment of her conception to her last moments, and the lessons we can learn from her. When one has an idea in his head to build something, and its name is going to be “Titanic”, you know that everything is going to be larger than life, absolutely everything, from start to finish, is going to be something greater than had ever been seen before. Even the designing of the Titanic was a massive undertaking, with the sheer number of plans that had to be drawn up, the plumbing and electrical and mechanical systems that had to be put into place, all the logistics that had to be considered, the international regulations that had to be followed, and all the attention to detail, all of it has to be planned well in advance. And once that was done, when all the plans were in place, it would take nearly 15,000 men more than two years to construct the Titanic. Built for the White Star Line at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the Titanic’s owners were in stiff competition for the Atlantic with the rival Cunard Line. Everything had to be just right. People wanted luxury, and to say that’s what they found in the Titanic would be an understatement. Elegance was the only word for her interior. Lavish in its decor, menus, and entertainment, it surpassed the highest expectations of all of its passengers. Not only was Titanic the most luxurious ship the world had ever known, she was also one of the fastest moving vessels on the sea. It was a floating palace loaded with fine amenities, a five-star hotel on the sea. It had tennis and squash courts, exercise rooms, and a gymnasium. It had trellised verandas, Turkish baths, and it was the first ship to have a swimming pool on board. It had a marvellously ornate ballroom and five grand pianos. It even had elevators– which was really something in 1912. All of it, actually, was really something for 1912. Never before had anyone seen anything like it. In fact, J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, selected the name Titanic to “convey sheer size…and size means stability, luxury, and, above all, strength”. The Titanic was also a technologically and aesthetically state of the art ship. As she set sail from Southampton to New York on her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912, she was the largest man-made moving object of her time. In fact, if you were able to stand the ship on its end, she would have been one of the world’s tallest buildings. She was 882 and a half feet long, the length of almost three football fields. She weighed over 46,000 tons. Each one of her three engines produced over 15,000 horsepower, which made her capable of travelling almost 24 knots. Each of her anchors weighed 15.5 tons, with just one link in an anchor’s chain weighing 175 pounds (80 kilos)! And her double bottom iron hull was 5 feet thick. The Titanic consumed over 650 tons of coal a day, over 27 tons every single hour. That would mean that the “Black Gang”, the 289 men who worked in her boiler and engine rooms, would be bringing forth and shovelling in just under a half a ton of coal every single minute of her journey. And with all the latest innovations in ship-building technology, including fifteen watertight doors designed to seal any water up through F Deck in its sixteen compartments, it was widely believed and accepted that this ship really was unsinkable. On board the ship were 887 members of crew. There were 1,320 passengers. To feed everyone on the scheduled six day voyage, the Titanic packed enough food to seemingly feed an army. On board, there was 85,000 pounds of fresh meat. 15,000 pounds of fish. 25,000 pounds of poultry and game. 40,000 eggs. 80,000 pounds of potatoes. 3,500 pounds of onions. 10,000 pounds of rice and dried beans. 7,000 heads of lettuce. 5,500 pounds of tomatoes. 2,250 pounds of peas. 800 bundles of asparagus. 36,000 oranges. 16,000 lemons. 50 boxes of grapefruit. 1,000 pounds of grapes. 10,000 pounds of cereals. 2,200 pounds of coffee. 800 pounds of tea. 1,500 gallons of fresh milk. 600 gallons of condensed milk. 1,200 quarts of fresh cream. 1,000 sweetbreads. 1,120 pounds of jams and marmalades. 6,000 pounds of butter. 10,000 pounds of sugar. 200 barrels of flour. 20,000 bottles of beer, ale, and stout. 1,500 bottles of wine. 850 bottles of spirits. 15,000 bottles of mineral water. And 1,750 quarts of ice cream. For its maiden voyage, no matter if you were a 1st Class, 2nd Class, or 3rd Class passenger, no expense was spared to make this trip something to remember. The Titanic had all these luxurious accommodations, she had all these amazingly wonderful and wondrous things, she had everything one could imagine… but she didn’t have enough lifeboats. Indeed, there was no ship that ever gave her passengers more confidence, there was no ship that ever made her passengers feel more secure. But they would all soon discover that the only thing they had, in reality, the only thing they had on board the Titanic, was a false sense of security. Within six days of her departure from Southampton, even with all this might and with all this grandeur, the great ship would lie two miles below the surface of the sea. 1,502 people of the 2,207 on board the Titanic would lose their lives. The world would wake up to the news shocked and amazed. It would seem nigh on impossible that such a fate could befall this “unsinkable” ship. And within hours of her sinking in the wee hours of April 15, 1912, the story of the ship, the story of its victims, and the story of the survivors, every aspect of the story of the unsinkable Titanic was being told. Since then, there has been a deluge of items produced about the tragedy. Her story has been featured in every form imaginable– in newspapers, magazines, books, music, radio, film, television, and the internet. Even in sermons immediately after her sinking, and in sermons today, her story has been, and is being, told. In fact, doing a google search nets over 144,000,000 “Titanic” results, and a search on Amazon.com finds almost 11,000 items about her. The story of the Titanic has continuously captivated each and every generation the past one hundred years. From the moment the Titanic disappeared into the icy waters of the North Atlantic a century ago, her story has held the world spellbound. The loss of the Titanic left a world shaken in disbelief, and made people stop to think. And people are still thinking. I believe that God wants us to remember the lessons the Titanic story provides, as these lessons are still relevant to us today– in fact, they’re timeless lessons. The story of how and why the great ship sank is a timeless story as well. And it all seems so unlikely, even to this day. So let’s look at what transpired on that day almost one hundred years ago… For the first few days of their voyage, the passengers and crew enjoyed a rather tranquil crossing on their way to New York. Even on the night of April 14, the crew members had remarked that they had never seen the Atlantic more calm. In fact, the sea that night was later described as being “as smooth as a piece of polished glass”. Iceberg warnings had come in via wireless telegraph messages during the day and into the evening, but they weren’t given much thought. The captain had been through this before, and he was looking to get into New York sooner rather than later. So all things were to continue as they were, and the Titanic continued to use her Morse code wireless to transmit messages from passengers to people in North America. This was the latest in technology, and the more affluent passengers wanted to impress their family and friends by sending them messages from the middle of the Atlantic. In fact, the Titanic was sending out so many personal messages, almost non-stop, that the ship nearest to her, the California, was forced to burst in without warning, telling the Titanic’s dedicated Morse code operators, “Say, old man, we are surrounded by ice and stopped!”. The California’s operators hadn’t had permission to burst in on his transmission, and the closeness of the ships meant that the message would practically deafen the Titanic’s operator. So the Titanic operator angrily replied, “Shut up! Shut up! I’m busy! I’m working Cape Race!”. At that, the California’s sole wireless operator turned off their messaging system for the night, while the Titanic operators continued sending the personal messages of her passengers. And the Titanic herself pressed forward. At 11:40 p.m., the most famous maritime disaster in history began to unfold. The great Titanic, pride of the White Star Line and of Great Britain, was approaching an iceberg. The lookouts in the crow’s nest, who the entire voyage had not had the benefit of using binoculars as they hadn’t been returned to their locker, saw the iceberg late. They were using only their vision, and this would normally be fine. But on a moonless night when the sea was extremely calm and where no water was lapping up against the base of the icebergs, the mountains of ice were difficult to see. The iceberg was seen awfully late by the lookouts, and the message of impending doom was relayed to the bridge as quickly as they could: three sharp rings of the bell, the signal for “object ahead”. They then phoned in the message to the bridge, and the message was immediately imparted to the senior officer in charge at that time. Within seconds of the iceberg being spotted, First Officer William Murdoch ordered the engines to halt, then reversed at the same time as ordering hard a-starboard. This action caused the Titanic to turn to port, with the starboard side of the ship nearest the iceberg. The ship would take over a kilometre to stop, over a half mile, and the ship’s 100 ton rudder would be slow to move. So as the lookouts in the crow’s nest braced for a head-on collision, the ship, at the last moment, slowly began to turn. As they passed the iceberg, now close enough to touch, they could see why they had had even greater difficulty in spotting this one. It was a “blue berg”, recently overturned and still dark with seawater. Strangely enough, if the Titanic had just continued on her course, or if she hadn’t turned in time, and had hit the iceberg head on, she would have most likely suffered only minor damage. She was specifically designed for this kind of collision. But it was too late. The ship could not turn far enough in time to miss the iceberg. In attempting to turn the 882.5 foot-long ship in order to completely miss the iceberg, the Titanic glanced an ice ramp, a protruding shelf of the iceberg below the surface, which caused the hull’s plates to buckle and rivets to pop below the waterline. The Titanic was only three feet away from safety, literally only a step away from not hitting the iceberg. But hit it she did. Seawater rushed uncontrollably into five front watertight compartments. If only four had been breached, she would have remained afloat. But the wound was fatal. The Titanic was doomed. As a sidenote, until relatively recently, why the Titanic sank wasn’t exactly known. The most widely held theory for many years was that when the ship hit the iceberg, it opened a massive 300 foot gash in her side, the length of a football field. However, during a number of expeditions to the wreck of the Titanic in the 1990’s, an international team of divers and scientists used sound waves to probe the wreckage. What the sonar images revealed was something much to everyone’s surprise. They discovered that the actual damage caused by the iceberg was surprisingly very small, a mere pinprick relatively speaking. Instead of the expected huge gash, they instead found six relatively narrow breaches across six watertight holds. It was a total area of less than 12 square feet. There was no trace of the supposed 300 foot gash. As unbelievable as it was, this seemingly minor damage led to the demise of the great ship. And it was enough to sink her in a period of only two hours forty minutes. Yet the collision wasn’t even noticed by most people. And for those who did notice, they didn’t think it amounted to much. A good number of passengers were drinking, dancing, gambling, having a great time at the moment the Titanic struck the ice. Most others were asleep or reading in their cabins. A group of gamblers went out on deck to look around, but soon returned to their cards. Others came out from their cabins, and played soccer with chunks of ice that had been scraped onto the ship. Still, nothing catastrophic seemed to be in the air. One person even said that it seemed that the ship merely quivered as if it “went over a thousand marbles. There was nothing terrifying about it at all.”. But soon thereafter, the first ever SOS in history would be sent out. The California was only 10 miles away, and would have normally picked up the distress calls– and would have gotten there in time to save many lives– but no one was in her telegraph room to hear them. When the damage below had been thoroughly assessed by none other than Thomas Andrews, the ship’s designer, and the horrifying news delivered to Captain Smith, the crew were then told to go to each cabin, awake the passengers, and advise them to get up on deck with their lifevests on. The Titanic had 3,500 lifevests and 48 lifebuoys. But in the icy waters, these things would be practically useless. And the people didn’t think they would need them, they had such faith in the great ship. Many even joked about the lifebuoys, with some actually putting them on and dancing around the deck while others stood back and laughed. One man even joked as he put one around a woman. “You’ve got to wear this”, he said, “it’s all the rage!”. So when people were told to put on their lifevests, many initially refused. Many said they didn’t want to get dirty and mess up their gowns. They didn’t see the point in putting them on, as they had complete confidence in the Titanic’s ability to stay afloat. But just after midnight, Captain Edward Smith, the highest paid sailor in the world, the man who had had the privilege of captaining all White Star maiden voyages the previous eight years and who was now set to retire after the Titanic’s scheduled return voyage, this most experienced of seamen did something he never imagined he’d have to do: he ordered the crew to ready the lifeboats. He knew the ship would sink within a few hours. But even at that, the passengers were reluctant to leave the comfort of the huge ship for a 70-foot drop down to the dark ocean in the tiny wooden boats. Even when some were urged to get into the lifeboats, they said, “Why should we get into the boats and go out into the cold night, when we’ll just be coming back on board in a few minutes?”. The order was “women and children first” onto the lifeboats, but many of the women refused to leave without their husbands, and had to be forcibly picked up and placed in the boats. Families were torn apart, as women and children bid farewell to husbands and fathers, and some even had to say goodbye to sons and brothers, some as young as 13, who were, incredibly, not allowed onto the lifeboats. And even though there were only lifeboats enough for less than half those aboard, very few of the boats were loaded to capacity. The Titanic carried 20 lifeboats, enough for 1,178 people. All but 2 were launched. Each lifeboat could hold up to 65 people. Yet lifeboat after lifeboat pulled away with as little as 10 people on board. This was in part due to the message of “women and children first” being misinterpreted as meaning “women and children only”. As the lifeboats on board became fewer and fewer, and as the freezing water rose higher and higher, cascading through the lower levels and then the ballroom and then the Grand Staircase, many found themselves scrambling, shouting, running, panicking, looking for any remaining lifeboats, as the water eventually swept onto the upper deck. Many others resigned themselves to the fact that their life was about to end. Many of those who were still on board when no more lifeboats would leave were passengers who had somehow still believed the myth of the Titanic’s invincibility, who had even refused to get in the lifeboats despite being told that the ship was in trouble. They had clung to the belief that the ship was unsinkable– and were somewhat offended when officers told them to evacuate, when they had paid such enormous sums of money for luxury travel. When the last lifeboat to leave had been launched, there were still over fifteen hundred people on board the doomed liner. Only 705 people– less than a third of the people on board– found safety on the lifeboats. Hundreds more could have been saved. Many of those who had huddled at the very stern of the boat in the last minutes as the ship began to lurch upward were quickly swept away once the liner plunged below the surface of the water. Very few were left on board, except for a couple who did not respond to a repeated call at their cabin to report on deck, and the gallant crew working below deck who tried to keep the Titanic running for as long as possible. There were also the Italian and French members of the kitchen crew. They remained on board as a consequence of the longstanding animosity the English had towards the Italians and French. You see, shortly after the Titanic collided with the iceberg, the kitchen crew were taken to their quarters by members of the deck crew, and locked inside until further notice. They were still locked in their cabins as the Titanic plunged to the bottom of the sea… For most of those who were in the water, they didn’t fare much better. If a person hadn’t gotten into a lifeboat by now, they had little chance of survival. Only six people who found themselves in the water were picked up by a lifeboat later on. The best possibility for being saved was by getting into a lifeboat before the great ship went under. The most awful part of it all is that so many had the chance to do so, but didn’t get into a lifeboat when they had the chance. Easily the most infamous person who did get into a lifeboat was the chairman of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay. As the call for “women and children first” was made, and knowing that the ship would soon be at the bottom of the sea, Ismay was more aware than anyone of the inadequacy of the number of lifeboats the Titanic had. And he also bore more responsibility than anyone for that problem. At a meeting two years earlier, when the details of the Titanic were being finalized, Ismay had been presented with a plan to equip the Titanic with 48 lifeboats, with a capacity of well more than what the Titanic would carry. Ismay studied the plans for a few short minutes, then rejected it on the account of expense, and the fact that he and his fellow White Star senior executives thought the Titanic would be unlikely to sink before help would arrive. Having fewer lifeboats would make for a better looking, less crowded boat deck, as more than the 20 they would carry would make it “too cluttered”. The 20 they would have on board was going to be more than the legal requirement, after all. So after making his rather quick decision, Ismay immediately turned to the question of the ship’s décor, where he would spend two hours discussing carpet for the First Class cabins. So before stepping into a lifeboat, Ismay would have been confronted with his deathly decision to drastically cut the number of lifeboats. And then, without looking at any of the crewmen in charge of loading the lifeboats, Ismay took his spot at the bow of the lifeboat. It would be something that would ruin his reputation, and would send him into seclusion for the rest of his life. This is one of the more scandalous occurrences that night. But the worst thing that would happen that night would be the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people who found themselves still on board when there was no way to be rescued, when the realization would come, to men, women, children, and families, that there was no hope. It must have been nightmarish, almost surrealistic, to have to say their last goodbyes to family members when this realization would finally dawn upon them. To think about being in the shoes of these people in this dreadful plight, to be thrust into a situation of having to say goodbye and to hold loved ones for the very last time, is a place I don’t ever like going to. But one person who was haunted by this very thing was Second Officer Charles Lightoller. He was standing on a lifeboat less than fifty yards from the Titanic as the great ship began her final plunge into the sea, and he could hear husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and children, crying out to one another, “I love you”. This horror stayed with him the rest of his life… On April 15, 1912, at 2:20am, the Titanic slipped beneath the waves and began her long plunge to the bottom of the Atlantic. Countless numbers remained on the surface, struggling to stay alive in the icy waters. Within minutes, most would succumb to hypothermia or drown. There were, however, reports from Titanic survivors who described the cries of victims, who were wearing lifevests, that lasted for more than an hour, even in the frigid -0.5º C (31º F) waters. Many of these people called out for the lifeboats to return to rescue them, but only one returned. Only one lifeboat chose to return. That one lifeboat chased the cries in the darkness, seeking to save only a precious few. 1,502 souls would enter eternity that night one hundred years ago… As the story of the Titanic is relived this month, there will be many congregations around the world who will be hearing sermons about what happened that fateful night one hundred years ago. In fact, this week at Harper Memorial Baptist Church in Glasgow, they will be holding a series of special events to celebrate the life of their former pastor, John Harper, who lost his life that night as he preached to those who were facing a Christ-less eternity. Many sermons in the past, and perhaps many sermons this month, will speak of Jesus being a lifeboat, of Jesus being the only lifeboat who has come to seek and save that which was lost. That’s fine, and I understand the reasons behind using this analogy. But, Biblically speaking, this analogy is only half right. The message will go something like this: You’ve been on a ship that’s now going under, and you’ve found yourself in the dark and icy water, with little hope of rescue, slowly sinking in a sea of sin. But Jesus comes by in a lifeboat and throws you a lifebuoy– all you’ve got to do is grab it, hold on, and He’ll pull you in. God has sent out a lifeboat to pick us up. You get into this lifeboat by trusting in Christ to pull you in. But you’ve got to take the first step in order to be saved. Won’t you get in the lifeboat by putting your trust in Jesus today? Don’t go down with the ship. I know it’s just a story used to illustrate a point, and I can appreciate the sentiment behind it, but this kind of analogy is not theologically accurate. If we’re going to use analogies to illustrate Scripture, we must be as faithful as possible to what God’s Word is saying. A more accurate analogy would be something like this: You’re not only in a sea of sin, and you’re not just drowning in it, but you are, in fact, already dead at the very bottom of the sea. Jesus comes to you, and resuscitates you, and gives you new life. It is only then, when you have been given new life, that you are able to find yourself floating on the surface of the sea and knowing exactly what danger you are in, and then grab onto His hand and be pulled into the lifeboat. This is the only way you could be saved– as Scripture tells us that we are dead in sin. And a dead man can do nothing for himself. A person first needs to be made alive again by God, to be born from above, before he can do anything in regard to moving toward God. This is regeneration, where God changes our hearts, where we are born again. We don’t do it ourselves. We don’t regenerate ourselves, we don’t make ourselves to be born from above, we don’t bring ourselves to faith– it is all a gift of God. Where once we were dead in trespasses and sin, He dove to the bottom of the ocean and raised us from the dead. Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 2v4-10: 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. The message of this Resurrection Sunday is not that Christ threw us a lifebuoy and hoped to save us, but that He actually saved us. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross actually secured the salvation of His people. He died to pay the penalty of those who would believe on Him. Christ’s death did not merely procure the possibility of people being saved: those who are Christ’s are actually saved from the penalty of their sin. That is the nature and the extent of the atonement, that what Christ actually achieved on the Cross wasn’t to open the door to the possibility of people being saved– but that actual salvation was accomplished right there and then. If it were that what Christ did on the Cross was only to make salvation a chance possibility, then no one at that point in history is actually saved by what He did! And that would mean that it is what we do that makes Christ’s atonement effective, it relies on our actions to make Christ’s work efficacious– rather than what Jesus did on the Cross alone. If His death only gave everyone only the possibility of being saved, then it did not actually save anyone. Yet Scripture tells us that Jesus is both the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12v2). It’s all of God. And that’s where the analogy of us taking the first step to get into the lifeboat falls greatly short, as it doesn’t take into account what had to take place first. Jesus says in John 6v44: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day”. The word for “draws” is the word ἕλκω (“hel-ko”), and it means “to draw, pull, drag”. Metaphorically, it means “to draw by inward power, lead, impel”. This word is also used in John 21v6: And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish. It’s used in the context of pulling or dragging in fish. And it’s used in James 2v6: But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? To “draw” doesn’t mean to “woo”. People are not “wooed” into the courts. It’s not a passive action. Hel-ko” is akin to Jesus actively diving down to the depths of the ocean and resuscitating you, rather than to Him merely throwing you a lifebuoy, hoping you’ll take it. The Good News this Easter Sunday is that if your faith is in Him, He has, as Micah 7v19 says, He has cast all your sin into the depths of the sea. That is the end of forgiven sins, that they are cast into a bottomless sea– where we once lay before He found us, and breathed new life into us.