Christians You Should Know: Eric Liddell March 1, 2023

Eric Liddell

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. – Isaiah 41:10

A Snapshot of the Life of Eric Liddell:

Born: Jan. 16, 1902 – China
Died: Feb. 21, 1945 – China
Possibly the most well-known Christian athlete of his time. Liddell was a Rugby football player, an Olympic champion, and world record-breaker in track. His story was made into a widely seen movie called Chariots of Fire (1981). He was born of missionary parents. Liddell went to Scotland at age five and was educated there. In 1923, he joined the Glasgow students Evangelistic Union. In the 1924 Olympics in Paris he refused to run his normal 100-m. race because it was scheduled on Sunday. Instead he ran the 400-m. race and won the gold medal with a new world record of 47.6 seconds. Through the London Missionary Service, he left Scotland and went to Tientsin, China, as a teacher, in 1925, at the Anglo-Chinese Christian College. On furlough in 1931, he was ordained a Congregationalist. Florence Mackenzie (1911-84) became his wife on March 27, 1934. In 1937, he left Tientsin for Siaochang to do rural work. When the oppression began in China in 1941, Liddell sent his family to safety in Canada. He and 1,800 others were interned by the Japanese in March 1943, in Weisien Internment Camp. He died there of a brain tumor and severe influenza. – (Excerpt taken from the Reese Chronological Encyclopedia of Christian Biographies. Used by permission.)

A Spiritual Application for Our Lives:

Surrender was the call and mission of Eric Liddell. Surrender of talent, future, influence, and life is exemplified in the testimony of this Scottish athlete. Few young men rise to the very top of a sport. Fewer still are allowed to compete in the Olympics. However, this was just the case with Eric Liddell. He understood that God had made him fast and wanted to use that ability to its full potential. However, Liddell had a long-standing conviction: Sunday is for the Lord, and in 1924, this conviction was tested.

During the weeks of preparation before the track and field events, Liddell was informed that his best races would be held on a Sunday. Liddell positively refused to run on the Lord’s Day. Because of his speed, the UK had counted on him running and winning the Gold medal. The pressure was immense among his friends, fellow athletes, and even political leaders. Liddell refused to capitulate. He chose instead to run the 400-meter race. On that Sunday, Liddell went to church. Two weeks later (during two other events he had declined to compete in) Liddell was preaching in a local church.

On the day of the 400-meter race, Liddell received a note: “It says in the Old Book, “Him that honors me, I will honor” [ Samuel 2:30] Wishing you the best of success always.” Indeed, God honored his conviction. Not only did Eric win the 400-meter race, but he also decimated the world record of that day! Liddell surrendered amazing opportunities to the wisdom of God, and God blessed him in greater ways. What about you? Have you surrendered your talents and opportunities to the Lord’s direction?

One year later…

The greatest, most exciting years of Liddell’s life followed his racing career. Never forgetting his call back to China, Liddell departed Great Britain for China in 1925. During their ministry in China, the Liddell family suffered heartache, extended separation, loss, illness, violence, and much difficulty. Yet, the One who had guided them continued to protect and care for them. As WWII raged, missions work in China became even more dangerous. Eric made the hard decision to send his family back to Canada to stay with his wife’s family. It would be the last time they saw him.

If I know something to be true, am I prepared to follow it even though it is contrary to what I want? …Will I follow if it means being laughed at by friend or foe, or if it means personal financial loss or some kind of hardship?” Indeed, Eric knew the gospel to be true, and he had surrendered his life to take it to the people of China. Ultimately, Liddell was captured and imprisoned in an internment camp. He declined a prisoner swap so an expectant mother could go home. He ministered daily to those around him. Even in prison, not a day passed that Eric did not spend time reading Scripture and praying.

As Eric Liddell lay dying of an inoperable brain tumor, he reminded those attending him to surrender everything to the will of God. While slipping into a coma, he was heard trying to say the word that typified his life – “surrender.” Friend, don’t allow yourself to waste the precious life God has given you; give it all back to God. No one remembers the winners from the 1924 Olympics. The medals are all lost. Yet, Eric’s life continues to encourage millions to a life of full surrender.

A Suggestion for Further Reading…

Eric Liddell: Pure Gold – David McCasland, 2004

Eric Liddell (Men of Faith Series)Catherine Swift, 1990

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  1. Raymond Ricard on March 2, 2023 at 9:10 AM

    Lord I have no strenght to honour you as Éric Lindell did, but we have the same Father.
    Raise more Éric for your glory sake.

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