Liddell Eric

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chariot to glory 21.2.1945


It is 54 years since the death of Eric Liddell, Olympic athlete and subject of the film “Chariots of Fire” the name of which was inspired by the poem of William Blake  ‘And did those feet in ancient time’ as sung in the film.  The third stanza reads:       Bring me my bow of burning gold:

                                                            Bring me my arrows of desire:

                                                            Bring me my spear:  O clouds, unfold!

                                                            Bring me my chariot of fire.


The movie portrays how his Christian principles cost him the chance of a gold medal in the 100m at the 1924 Olympics in Paris.  Having refused to run in the heats for the 100m because they were being run on a Sunday, he entered the 400m and, rather unexpectedly, won a gold medal in that event, capturing the imagination of millions and in the process becoming a national hero in Scotland.


When, equally unexpectedly, he retired from competitive athletics a year later, leaving Scotland to serve as a missionary in China, he received the kind of send-off no departing missionary has received before or since.  When he died of a brain tumour in a Japanese internment camp, after living away from home for almost 20 years, the public reaction was as warm as if he had only left the day before.


He didn’t like a fuss being made of his exploits, but neither did he try to hide his gift or exhibit false modesty.  When asked by a group of earnest enquirers about the ‘spiritual quality’ of his running, he informed them with a grin “I don’t like to be beaten.”  On another occasion he said “When I run I feel God’s pleasure.”


Even in China he put his running to good use.  On one occasion, disguised as a pedlar, he broke through lines of bandits and then used his speed to make his escape.


He was affectionately known as Uncle Eric to the many children of  missionaries working for the China Inland Mission (now OMF) who had been at Chefoo School.  He made a very significant contribution to internment camp life and morale and organised sporting activities for the children.


China has now honoured Eric Liddell with a memorial stone at Weifang, Shandong Province, in N.E.China.  Presented at Weifang was a Chinese translation of ‘Disciplines of the Christian Life’, devotional material written and assembled by him from which the following quotes come:

Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the          ruinsOur broken lives are not lost or useless.  God’s love is still working.  He comes in and takes      the calamity and uses it victoriously, working out his wonderful plan of love.


Do not try to limit God to the smallness of your prejudices.  God honours many ways of                surrendering.  Do not try to avoid one method because it hurts your pride.


Sources: Sally Magnusson ‘The Flying Scotsman’;  ‘The Australian Evangelical’ ;  Hampton & Plueddemann ‘World Shapers’


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