A real hero.
Known as “The Flying Scotsman” (after the record-breaking locomotive), Eric Liddell was born in China, the son of Missionaries, on January 16, 1902. He was the son of Rev and Mrs. James Dunlop Liddell, who were Scottish missionaries with the London Missionary Society. He would die, in China, serving as a Missionary Teacher, on February 21, 1945.
His story, and his strong religious convictions, were the subject of the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, in which he is portrayed by fellow Scotsman Ian Charleson.
The year is 1924.
The Summer Olympics are being held in Paris, France. Eric Liddell is a favorite to win Gold. His best event, his specialty, the one which he was clearly the favorite to win, was the 100 Meter Race. It was the running of this race, his best event, which Eric refused to compete in … because the race was to be held on Sunday. The race would be won by Harold Abrahams, from Britain, in a time of 10.6 seconds, beating all the American favorites. Harold Abrahams’s father, Isaac, was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, and had settled in Bedford, with his Welsh Jewish wife, Esther Isaacs.
In the 1924 Paris Olympics, Eric would compete in the 400 Meter Race … which he won.
As he stepped to the line to compete in the 400 … an event which the Americans were favored to win … an American slipped Eric a piece of paper … On the paper was written a quote from 1 Samuel 2:30: “For them that honor me I will honor.”
I find this a fascinating piece of history, which I did not know, until I did the research for this writing. This quote from 1 Samuel was one of my Mom’s favorite verses, and one which I heard my Mom quote so many times, often over the telephone, that “God honors those who honor Him;” that, “I will honor those who honor Me.” Her repeated quote of this Scripture prompted us to use the quote from the verse as our business motto: “To Honor Those Who Honor Him.”
How did Eric Liddell do, as he raced around the Olympic track, carrying this quote from Scripture: He broke the Olympic and world records with a time of 47.6 seconds.
Again, this was 1924. The next year, 1925, Eric returned to China to serve as a missionary teacher. Aside from two furloughs in Scotland, he remained in China until his death, in a Japanese civilian internment camp, in 1945.
Eric Liddell died on February 21, 1945, five months before liberation. Langdon Gilkey, American theologian, would write, “The entire camp, especially its youth, was stunned for days, so great was the vacuum that Eric’s death had left.”
According to a fellow missionary, Liddell’s last words were, “It’s complete surrender,” in reference to how he had given his life to God.
Remember, in those 1924 Olympics in Paris, Eric Liddell had refused to compete in his best event, the 100 Meters, due to his strong beliefs and convictions. We go now, 56 years after the 1924 Paris Olympics, as fellow Scotsman Allan Wells won the 100 Meter Sprint at the 1980 Olympics, held in Moscow. When Allan Wells was asked, after his Moscow Olympic victory, if he had run the race in honor of Harold Abrahams, who was the last 100 Meter Olympic winner from Britain (in those Paris Olympics in 1924), who had died two years previously, Wells replied:
“No, I would prefer to dedicate this to Eric Liddell.”
I can’t think of a better representative of the Scripture of “Giving all to, and for, Christ.”
A real hero.
A special thanks to the Lights4God blog … for bringing this great story back to my memory. Here’s a direct link to the post which brought this back:
Now, here’s a short biographical video which tells the story of Eric’s life, which features some great historical photographs, and quotes from Eric Liddell: