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Lessons from the Sinking of the Titanic

Lessons from the TitanicWhat spiritual lessons and Bible principles can we learn from one of the greatest tragedies in history?


"Gentlemen, I regret to say that the Titanic sank at 2:20 this morning." (p169)

This announcement was made by Philip Franklin, vice president of the White Star Line in New York. He referred to the sinking of the luxury ocean liner the Titanic, which sank in the North Atlantic on the morning of April 14, 1912, after hitting an iceberg. Of the 2200 people on board, over 1500 of them died.

Even today, almost a century later, this tragedy stirs the interest of multitudes, as illustrated by recent movies, books, and documentaries.

 My information is based mainly on the book "Unsinkable": The Full Story of the RMS Titanic, by Daniel Allen Butler. (All page citations are from that book.)

The tragedy still interests people for many reasons.

Major loss of life

Over 1500 people died, the greatest number of deaths in a non-military transportation accident up to that time (and I don't know of any greater since that time).

The amazing character of the ship

* It was the largest ship of that day (though larger have been built since).
* It was one of the fastest ships of that day, but not the fastest (and faster have been built since).
* It was on its maiden voyage
* It was the most luxurious ship ever built.

Amazing "coincidences" that contributed to the tragedy

Numerous details, anyone of which, if it had happened differently, would have prevented the ship from sinking or prevented the loss of so many lives (pp. 39,44,137).

* The ship's sailing had been postponed for three weeks. Had she sailed any other time, the iceberg would not have been there.
* If the ship had traveled one mile per hour faster or slower, the iceberg would have been in a different position.
* The iceberg was "blue," the most difficult kind to see.
* The night was moonless -- no light to show the iceberg.
* The night was windless. Wind would have made waves to splash on the iceberg making it more visible.
* Men in the crow's nest had no lookout glasses. They were on the ship, but had been misplaced.
* Even so, the crew saw the iceberg in time to begin turning. If the crew had seen the iceberg 10 seconds sooner, the ship would have missed it.
* If the crew had seen the iceberg ten seconds later, they would have hit it head on, causing damage which would not have sunk the ship. The ship sank because it grazed the berg, slicing open a long section of its side.
* The ship could carry over 3000 people, but had lifeboats for only 1178 (this was all that laws then required). Even so, only 700 people actually got in the lifeboats.

Recent interest in the tragedy has been stirred by the fact the wreckage was found and explored underwater in the 1980's.
Perhaps the greatest cause of interest is that the ship sank on her very first voyage despite the fact that many people believed it to be "unsinkable" or nearly so.

The purpose of this study is to learn some spiritual lessons from the sinking of the Titanic. Consider the following lessons:


A. Facts about the Titanic

The luxury of the ship was incredible.

First-class accommodations rivaled the finest hotels on shore.

The first-class dining hall could seat 500 people in one room -- on a ship!

The greatest showpiece was the Grand Staircase, which ascended four decks.

The cost for a one-way passage in the finest suites would equate to $80,000 in 1997 money! (Pp. 18,19).

The passengers included some of the world's greatest millionaires.

One of the best known was John Jacob Astor. He died, as did many others as famous or nearly as wealthy as he was.

The man who designed the ship was also on board and died.

B. Scriptural Lessons

In this life wealthy people may have some advantages, but in death, all are equal.

Ecclesiastes 5:15 -- As he came from his mother's womb, naked shall he return, To go as he came; And he shall take nothing from his labor Which he may carry away in his hand.

Ecclesiastes 9:11 -- The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all.

Besides rich people, the Titanic included many poor people in third class. People who paid $80,000 for a suite died alongside people who paid the equivalent of $700. John Jacob Astor and other wealthy men were turned away from the lifeboats, because the rule was "women and children first."

Likewise, no amount of money can ultimately prevent a man's death. When a rich man dies, he leaves just like the poorest man who ever lived.

Therefore, God warns men not to trust in riches.

1 Timothy 6:17 -- Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.

Matthew 16:26 -- For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? [Jeremiah 9:23,24]

After this life all men, rich and poor, will face their eternal destinies. John Jacob Astor, with all his millions, could no more buy a place in heaven than he could in one of those lifeboats.

When we face Jesus in judgment, what matters will be how we lived, not how much we were worth. What is your goal in life? Do you live as though this world is most important or heaven is most important? Are you living so you will be ready for the day you die?


A. Facts about the Titanic

Some people have perverted the story of the Titanic so as to make the crew and the male passengers appear cowardly and selfish. There may have been rare instances of this, but generally just the opposite was true.

The crew

Devotion to study was such a strong virtue among Englishmen in that day that the book records: "...there isn't a single recorded incident of any crewmen trying to force their way into any of the lifeboats" (p174).

"It was devotion to duty that ... kept Trimmer Hemming on board working at loading and lowering the boats long after his assigned lifeboat had gone; it kept [wireless operators] Phillips and Bride at the wireless even after Captain Smith released them; it kept Chief Engineer Bell and the rest of the engineering staff in the engine room even when they knew that it was far too late to reach the upper decks and get away; it kept [band leader] Wallace Hartley and the band playing until they were pitched into the sea." (p174)

While it is true that a majority of the passengers died, of 892 crew members 678 died. The author states, "...the only explanation can be that they deliberately stayed away from the [life]boats" (p226).

The male passengers

When the lifeboats were being loaded, the rule was "women and children first." A few men acted cowardly, but most did not.

Story after story told of men putting their wives and/or children into the lifeboats, then calmly walking away rather than insisting on getting in themselves.

"There was ... Colonel Gracie, working as hard as any crewman to help launch [two lifeboats]. There were Lieutenant Steffanson and Hugh Woolner helping Purser McElroy, stop a rush on [a lifeboat]. There was John Jacob Astor, meekly turning away [when told] 'Women and children only'...; or Isidor Strauss refusing to get into a boat before any other man..." (p223).

Tragedy may be a time when the worst in some people comes out. But it is also a time when the best in other people comes out.

B. Scriptural Lessons

The Bible teaches the importance of courageously doing our duty to God and others, even at the peril of great sacrifice.

Luke 17:10 -- When you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, "We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do."

Luke 14:33 -- Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

Ephesians 5:25-29 -- Specifically, men are told to cherish their wives as their own bodies and to love them even as the Lord loved the church and gave Himself for it.

Feminists ridicule the Bible teaching that women should be subject to men. But the Bible also teaches men to put the welfare of their wives and children before themselves and sacrifice even their lives if necessary for them. Amazingly, when we hear of examples like the Titanic when men have done that, some feminists ridicule those stories too!

John 15:13,14 -- Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.

Our society has largely lost a sense of duty. The idea is commonly ridiculed. Yet the story of the Titanic ought to challenge us to appreciate the value of doing our duty.

Especially Christians devote ourselves to doing our duty for the Lord, willing to lay down our lives in His service, even as Christ gave His life for us.


A. Facts about the Titanic

Many passengers and crew members believed the Titanic to be unsinkable, and the ship's designers believed it was almost true.

One passenger asked a ship's agent for extra insurance on some valuables in her luggage. The agent replied, "Ridiculous. This boat's unsinkable" (p45).

Captain Smith himself was asked about the safety of the Titanic. He answered:

"I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that." (p48)

After the ship had struck the iceberg, a passenger asked her employer if they should do something about it. He replied, "Go back to bed. This ship is unsinkable" (p80).

The ship began to list as it took on more water. When a passenger expressed concern, another passenger replied, "You cannot sink this boat" (p82).

When early reports about the tragedy began to gradually reach America, Philip Franklin, vice-president of the White Star line in New York, responded: "We place absolute confidence in the Titanic. We believe that the boat is unsinkable" (p168).

One passenger asked a dock hand, "Is this ship really unsinkable?" The man replied, "Yes, lady. God Himself couldn't sink this ship" (p39).

B. Scriptural Lessons

The danger of pride and faith in human achievements

Many people express similar attitudes toward human accomplishments.

People have such faith and pride in human achievements, that they don't realize their need for God.

Humanism says that there is no force or intelligence on earth higher than mankind. We must solve our own problems, for there is no one else to solve them.

Some evolutionists believe we are evolving to the point we can solve our own problems.

Other people believe wealth can solve all their problems. Or they trust human learning: science, technology, or psychology. They believe we can completely control our world and do anything we want, without depending on God.

People begin to think of various aspects of their lives: "Not even God can sink this ship."

But the Bible says:

Proverbs 16:18 -- Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.

Genesis 11:4-9 -- The Titanic story is much like that of the tower of Babel. Men sought to do great things without depending on God. They thought "nothing they propose to do will be withheld from them." When men develop this pride, God often teaches us how humble and weak we really are.

Psalms 9:20 -- Put them in fear, O LORD, That the nations may know themselves to be but men.

Deuteronomy 8:11-13,17,18 -- People who receive great blessings, tend to forget God and think these great achievements were accomplished by themselves. So they fail to trust in God and give Him glory.

James 1:17 -- God is the giver of every good and perfect gift.

Acts 17:25,28 -- He gives to all life, breath, and all things.

Whatever we achieve in this life, it happens only because of the abilities and blessings God provides. We could do nothing without Him. And He has the power to destroy at any moment our greatest achievements. Some day he will bring the whole world to an end.

[John 15:5; 1 Tim. 6:17; Psalm 127:1

The doctrine of once saved, always saved

Some people believe that once they have become a child of God, nothing can cause them to lose their salvation. They have concluded that their relationship to God is "unsinkable" just people thought of the Titanic.

1 Corinthians 10:12 -- Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

1 Corinthians 9:27 -- Paul had to bring his body in subjection lest he himself should be disqualified.

Galatians 5:4 -- These Christians had become estranged from Christ and fallen from grace. They did exactly what people say cannot happen!

2 Peter 2:20-22 -- People who have escaped the pollutions of the world can yet become entangled in them again. They would be better off had they never known the truth, but are like a dog returning to his own vomit.

Our hope for eternal life is no more "unsinkable" than was the Titanic. When we begin to think we cannot be lost, then we are in the very greatest danger of doing so!

[John 15:1-6; Acts 8:12-24; Romans 6:12-18; 8:12-17; Galatians 6:7-9; 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 5:8; 2 Timothy 2:16-18; Hebrews 3:6,11-14; 4:9,11; 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 2 Peter 1:8-11]


A. Facts about the Titanic

The Titanic struck the iceberg shortly before midnight. Some passengers were asleep, but many were still partying. The band was playing. People were dancing, eating, enjoying life. They were confident life would go on, because the ship was "unsinkable."

The ship sank just 2 1/2 hours later at 2:20 AM. Many were still in their party clothes. Others were still in their night clothes, dressed for bed. Many died that way. None expected to die that night.

B. Scriptural Lessons

James 4:13,14 -- You don't know what will happen tomorrow. Life is like a vapor that appears for a little time, then vanishes away.

Job 14:2 -- Man comes forth like a flower and fades away; he flees like a shadow and does not continue.

Proverbs 27:1 -- Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.

Luke 12:16-21 -- Like the people on the Titanic, this farmer thought he would live a long time to enjoy life. He planned to "eat, drink, and be merry." But God said he would die that night.

Matthew 24:36-39 -- Not only death, but also Jesus' coming will be sudden and unexpected. Like the flood that destroyed people in Noah's day, so the sinking of the Titanic was sudden and unexpected. Likewise, Jesus' coming will be unexpected by many.

Like the people on the Titanic, your life may end at any moment. Life is not guaranteed. Your ship is not "unsinkable." Some day you and I too will die. Are you ready for life to end and to face Jesus in the day of judgment?

[Proverbs 27:1; Job 9:25; 7:6; 8:9; 14:1,2; 30:23; Psalms 102:11; 49:10; 39:5; 89:47,48; 90:9; 2 Samuel 14:14; Ecclesiastes 8:8; 6:12; 3:19; Isaiah 38:12; Genesis 47:9; 1 Chronicles 29:15; James 4:13,14; Luke 12:16-21]


A. Facts about the Titanic

Various Titanic passengers testified about people who died because they were convinced nothing could be done to save them. One passenger described the following scene which occurred as the ship sank:

"Hundreds were in a circle with a preacher in the middle, praying, crying, asking God and Mary to help them. They lay there, still crying, till the water was over their heads. They just prayed and yelled, never lifting a hand to help themselves. They had lost their own willpower and expected God to do all their work for them." (p107)

Note that these people did nothing to help themselves because of their religious beliefs and the influence of a preacher. As a result, they all died.

At least some of them might have been saved, if they had done something. The person who watched them somehow lived to tell about it!

B. Scriptural Lessons

Many people today likewise believe there is nothing they need to do to be saved. Preachers have taught them that God will do all the work. There is nothing to do except believe in God and "pray the sinners prayer." Specifically, they deny that baptism is necessary, because it is something you do.

Unquestionably, we cannot earn salvation, and nothing we do could save us if Jesus had not died and made salvation possible. By dying He gave us the opportunity to be saved. But in order for us to receive His forgiveness, He requires us to obey Him.

Matthew 7:21 -- Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.

Acts 10:35 -- In every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

Hebrews 5:9 -- Jesus became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

Philippians 2:12 -- Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

2 Thessalonians 1:8,9 -- Those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ shall be punished with everlasting destruction.

People will die in sin unless they do what the Lord says they must do to be saved. If they believe there is nothing for them to do, they are in danger of dying spiritually just as surely as the Titanic passengers who believed there was nothing they could do to be saved.

[John 14:15,21-24; Romans 2:6-10; 6:17,18; Hebrews 10:39; 11:8,30; Galatians 5:6; James 2:14-26; 1 Peter 1:22,23; 1 John 5:3; 2:3-6]


A. Facts about the Titanic

Consider the contrast between two other ships near the Titanic.

The Californian

As the Titanic was sinking, the lights of another ship were visible on the horizon. This ship had stopped for the night, presumably because it had seen or heard of icebergs in the area. Clearly it could have come to Titanic's aid. The Titanic's crew tried to signal this ship by wireless Morse code messages, by blinking light, and by rocket flares.

The captain of the Californian always denied that his ship was the ship the Titanic crew saw, but consider the evidence.

* The crew of the Titanic definitely saw another ship. The Californian was in the area, and no other ship has ever been proved to be anywhere nearby.

* The crew of the Californian reported seeing the lights of a ship that night. That ship also was not moving, so they wondered how it eventually disappeared. But they thought little of it.

* The Californian did not receive the Titanic's radio messages, because its radio had been had turned off for the night. The Titanic sent up eight white rockets, and the crew of the Californian reported seeing eight white rockets.

* Three times the crew reported these rockets to their captain. But it was the middle of the night and he was asleep. They awoke him, but he said the rockets meant nothing. The crew wondered why a ship would send up eight rockets in the middle of the night if it had no purpose.

So the Californian stood by while 1500 people drowned. It could easily have rescued them, but its captain did not believe there was a problem and was unwilling to be bothered in the middle of the night. (Pp. 113,241f)

The Carpathia

As the Titanic sank, her wireless operators tried heroically to find another ship near enough to come to its rescue. A little after midnight they contacted the Carpathia, a small British ship about 58 miles away. The Titanic's message said: "...SOS--SOS... Come at once. We have struck a berg..."

The radio operator of the Carpathia reported the message to his first officer. Together they barged into the room of Captain Arthur Rostron, waking him from a sound sleep. When he heard the message, this captain said, "All right, tell him we are coming along as fast as we can."

Here is a description of this captain:

"He was ... noted for his piety; he neither smoked nor drank, was never heard to use profanity, and in a day and age when recourse to the Almighty was not regarded as quaint or a sign of weakness, [he] was known to turn to prayer for guidance" -- p115.

The captain gave every command he could think of to prepare for a rescue mission. All routine work was stopped, life boats swung into place, lights rigged all along the ship's sides, all gangway doors opened, block and tackle made ready to hoist boats aboard and slings to lift the injured.

The captain had ordered full speed ahead, but the Carpathia had a top speed of 14 knots. At that speed it would take 4 hours to reach the Titanic. Captain Rostron determined to do better. He ordered all off-duty stokers to the engine room to get every ounce of steam the boilers could make. Heat and hot water were turned off throughout the ship. All power went to the engines.

From its top speed of 14 knots, the Carpathia increased speed. 14 knots ... 15 knots ... 16 knots ... 17 knots -- 3 knots faster than her top speed, the Carpathia sped to rescue the perishing.

The captain ordered extra lookouts in the crow's nest, the bow, and the bridge. He was steaming faster than full speed in the middle of the night into a field of icebergs, to rescue a ship that had already struck an iceberg.

The captain called the stewards together. He explained the plight of the Titanic and the mission of the Carpathia. He looked each man in the eye and said, "Every man to his post and let him do his duty like a true Englishman."

"In all this excitement, one other thing was not overlooked. The second officer noticed it. Then every man on the bridge noticed. Captain Rostron stood at the back of the bridge holding his cap an inch or two off his head, eyes closed, lips moving in silent prayer."

1500 people from the Titanic died that night, because they could not get into the lifeboats. Of those who were able to get into the lifeboats, 700 were rescued, all of them by the Carpathia. No other ship arrived in time. (Pp. 114-117)

B. Scriptural Lessons

All around us are souls dying, drowning in an ocean of sin and evil.

Romans 3:23 -- All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

Romans 6:23 -- The wages of sin is death. The only hope for the world is to receive the forgiveness God offers through Jesus Christ.

Jesus cares about these souls.

Matthew 16:26,27 -- He said that any soul is of more value than all the treasures of earth. The Titanic was a fabulously luxurious ship. But just one soul is worth more to God than all the wealth in the world.

John 4:35,36 -- Jesus said to lift up our eyes and see that the fields are white already to harvest. Jesus saw souls in desperate need of salvation, just like those people from the Titanic drowning. [Matt. 9:35-38]

Luke 15 -- Jesus was criticized for associating with sinners. In response He told three stories all designed to illustrate how important lost souls are to God.

V3-7 -- The lost sheep. -- Note v7.

V8-10 -- The lost coin -- Note v10.

V11-32 -- The lost son -- Note v20,32.

Luke 19:10 -- Jesus came to earth to seek and save the lost. He showed by His life the care for the lost that we should have. [Heb. 2:9]

If Jesus cares so much about lost souls, surely we should do the same.

We have the only power that can save these lost souls.

Mark 16:15 -- Jesus said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."

Jude 3 -- We must contend earnestly for the faith. Who should do this? Those who partake of the common salvation. That includes everyone of us.

2 Timothy 2:1,2,24-26 -- Faithful men will be able to take the message taught them and, in turn, teach others also. Servants of the Lord are to be able to teach.

Who should do this? Those who are faithful, and servants of the Lord. Does that include you?

The early Christians gave us an example of diligent teaching.

Acts 8:4 -- Christians from Jerusalem went everywhere preaching the word (cf. v1).

1 Thessalonians 1:8 -- The word of the Lord was sounded by the Thessalonians into their entire region.

Romans 10:1 -- Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.

Is this our attitude toward the lost? What do we intend to do about it? Will we be like the captain of the Californian? Will we just deny the problem or ignore it, because we don't want to go to the trouble and sacrifice of helping?

Or will we be like the captain and crew of the Carpathia? Will we accept the challenge to rescue the perishing? Surely the souls around us are worth every bit of effort that it was worth to save the lives of those from the Titanic.

Brothers and sisters, "Every man to his post. Let us do our duty like true Christians."


A. Facts about the Titanic

The crew of the Titanic received many warnings about the danger they faced, but those warnings went unheeded.

* The ship builders pointed out that the ship could easily handle far more lifeboats. But the White Star line refused to build more, because it would be too expensive (interesting, considering the luxury of the ship). Besides, the ship already met all legal requirements, and furthermore it was "unsinkable" so it didn't need lifeboats! (P. 39)

* As the Titanic proceeded, her crew received no fewer than six messages from other ships warning of ice in the very area where she eventually struck the iceberg. She received messages from the Coronia, the Noordam, the Baltic, the Amerika, the Californian, and the Mesaba.

These reports described heavy pack ice, large icebergs, and field ice, giving positions where they were located. Had these positions been carefully plotted on a map, they would have revealed a belt of ice 78 miles wide, directly in the path of the Titanic.

But wireless was new and there were no organized procedures for handling messages. On the Titanic some messages were just pocketed. One was plotted on the map. Only one or two reached the captain. For whatever reasons, they were largely ignored. (Pp. 61,62)

So the Titanic steamed on at essentially full speed on a black night, refusing to alter course, disregarding all possible danger.

B. Scriptural Lessons

God through His word repeatedly warns men today of the danger of sin and the need to serve Him obediently.

1 Peter 5:8,9 -- The devil walks like a roaring lion, seeking to devour men. We must resist Him steadfast in faith.

Hebrews 2:1-3 -- We need to give earnest heed to the things we have heard. People under the Law were punished for disobedience. How then do we expect to escape if we neglect the salvation through Christ?

Hebrews 3:12-14 -- There is a very real danger that we might depart from God, like Israel did (v10,11). We must warn one another daily, so we will hold our confidence firm to the end.

Proverbs 1:20-33 -- God's word, represented as Wisdom, calls to men to listen to her warnings and repent. Those who ignore her message will one day face calamity. When that time comes, it will be too late. We will be destroyed, but those who listen to Wisdom will dwell safely without fear of evil.

2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 -- Those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel will be punished with everlasting destruction.

God's word repeatedly warns of the dangers of sin. God says we must repent and turn from evil.


What are you and I doing about the warnings God gives?

Are you, like the owners of the Titanic, refusing to heed the warnings, because you are not willing to pay the price or because you think your life is "unsinkable"? Are you like the crew of the Titanic, ignoring the warnings, plunging on full speed ahead, refusing to turn? If so, you will suffer a fate worse than she did!

If, however, you will heed God's warnings and obey Him, you can avoid catastrophe. What is your response?

(C) Copyright 1999, David E. Pratte
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