Eric Liddell, January 16 1902 – February 21 1945

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Eric Liddell winning the 400-meter dash in the 1924 Paris Olympics

In the 1924 Paris Olympics, Eric Liddell, a sprinter from Scotland, refused to run his heat in the 100-meter dash on a Sunday because of his belief in the sanctity of the Sabbath. So instead of his best race, he raced in the 400-meter dash. On the morning of the race, one of the team’s masseurs handed him a note, which says, “In the old book it says: ‘He that honours me I will honour.’ Wishing you the best of success always,” a small part of 1 Samuel 2:30. Liddell won the race in world record time.

After the Olympics, he was asked how he had success in the 400-meter dash, and he answered, “The secret of my success over the 400 metres is that I run the first 200 metres as hard as I can. Then, for the second 200 metres, with God’s help, I run harder.”

His story inspired the making of the movie “Chariots of Fire.” Unfortunately, a scriptwriter added this quote, which Liddell never said, because he was always humble even in victory, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Before he went to the Olympics, he told his brother and sister what he believed: “I believe God made me for a purpose.” But even though he gained the praise and honor of the world, his goal to be a missionary to China—where he was born of missionary parents—never weakened. In 1925, a year after winning his Olympic gold medal, Liddell obeyed God’s purpose for his life: he went to China as a missionary.

For 18 years, he preached the gospel tirelessly in a foreign land far from the conveniences of his native Scotland. In 1943, he refused to leave China even at the risk of being arrested, but sent his family home to England. The Japanese occupation force arrested and imprisoned him in a concentration camp, where he developed a brain tumor and died on February 21, 1945.

Liddell knew God’s promise in Rom. 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The power of Christ’s resurrection enabled Liddell to endure all the hardship of missionary life; to hope for a heavenly city. His pleasure was in honoring the Lord’s Sabbath day, which pointed forward to the eternal Sabbath.

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