What is it within a man that will motivate him to stand his ground when he knows that doing so will cost him everything, including his life? The life and death of Wallace Hartley provides a stirring example of a man who, rather than seeking to save his own life, acted in a manner that demonstrated courage, fidelity, and sacrifice for the sake of others.
Wallace Hartley was not well known prior to his death. His posthumous fame came because he was the leader of the band that played as the Titanic sank. The story of Wallace Hartley and the band is told in the recent book "The Band that Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down with the Titanic” by Steve Turner. Those who survived the disaster that occurred on April 15, 1912, reported hearing music as they were lowered in the lifeboats. Launching out on the placid icy sea that night, the survivors looked back to see the massive steel silhouette of the ship slide under the surface of the water. Many reported that as the ship began to be engulfed by water, they heard the sounds of the hymn, “Nearer, My God, To Thee”. The last survivors to leave the ship reported that the band, led by Wallace Hartley, played up to the last possible moment. These brave men never once tried to leave the ship or to save their own lives. They played in order to give peace and to bring a little calm to a terror-filled situation. Some survivors reported that hearing the music alleviated some of their anxiety.
The band was under no obligation to play as the ship sank. The men had every right to seek safety. The band was not under the authority of Capt. Edward Smith because they were not considered employees of the White Star Lines. Therefore, he could not order them to stay at their stations and play. It is unlikely that Captain Smith even asked the men to play. So why did they do it? The answer is found in the leader of the band: Wallace Hartley.
Hartley was known as a man of Christian character. He was born and raised in Colne, England. His father was the Sunday School Superintendent at Bethel Independent Methodist Chapel, and it was at this church that Wallace became a Christian. He was active in the church and introduced the hymn “Nearer, My God, To Thee” to his home congregation. His faith was the foundation of the fortitude he displayed the fateful night the Titanic sunk. Crisis reveals character, and character is forged in the daily routine of life. Prior to the sinking, Wallace lived what we would consider a very normal life. But in the ordinary moments of life, Wallace was being prepared for an extraordinary moment, a moment that would cause him to become a model of bravery to coming generations.
What are we to take from this? We should not despise the days of small things because it is in the small daily activities that God is shaping and molding us. Faithfulness in the small things will lead to faithfulness in the larger things of life. The daily routine of life can become drudgery, yet that same routine is also a proving ground that readies our character for the day of crisis. We do not know when crisis will come. Our task is to be faithful every day so that we are becoming the men and women God desires us to be. Crisis reveals our character, and character is forged in the daily routine of life.
It is believed that Wallace led the band in playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” as the final number that led them into eternity. Wallace had made statements and left letters to the effect that if he knew he were facing death, then he would play “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” His love for this hymn was well known. At the time of his death, Wallace was playing the hymn he dearly loved.
When I finished reading the inspiring story of the band that played on, I remembered the words written by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” The strength to stand firm is found in the daily habits cultivated in the regular routine of life. A life lived for Christ by cultivating daily the spiritual disciplines will bring us closer to God and give us strength for each day. As we move into a new school year and begin the routines of packing lunches and homework, be sure to make the time to cultivate the disciplines that lead to godliness and growth in the Lord. Those routines will bring us nearer to God.