When I am asked to name my favorite movie, my answer hasn’t changed in nearly forty years. It is Chariots of Fire. Nominated in seven categories at the 54th Academy Awards, it was an unexpected winner of four Oscars, including Best Picture. In 1982, the applause rang out in Hollywood, just as it did in 1945 at the cemetery in the Weihsien Internment Camp in China when Eric Henry Liddell made an abundant entry into heaven.
Every Scottish schoolboy in the fifties knew the story of Eric Liddell. Our teachers would use him as an example not just of athletic excellence or disciplined training but of a humility that was grounded in the grace of God. He was just 5’8”, but he was a giant. He played rugby for Scotland and ran in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. His best race was the 100 meters. But when the Olympic schedule called for the heats to take place on a Sunday, his conviction about the Lord’s Day meant he couldn’t run. Instead, he ran in the 400 meters, held on a weekday, and won gold, setting a new world record. He later commented, “The secret of my success over the 400 meters is that I run the first 200 meters as fast as I can. Then, for the second 200 meters, with God’s help, I run faster.”
The movie only takes us to 1924. In 1925, Eric left Scotland for China to serve as a missionary. (He was born there in 1902 to missionary parents.) Because of his fame as an athlete, a great crowd gathered at Waverley Station, Edinburgh, to see him off. From the window of his carriage, he shouted, “Christ for the world, for the world needs Christ!” He then led the crowd in singing the hymn “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun.”
In less than two decades, his earthly race would be run. But his investment in the lives of his colleagues and the children in the Anglo-Chinese school where he taught has borne fruit for eternity. He was clever, able, kind, friendly, and humble. No wonder that so many joined him as he ran looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of their faith (Heb. 12:2). He was able to make these words from Paul his own: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
Eric Liddell has influenced many of us without him ever knowing. One day, we shall have the chance to tell him. Another huge influence in my life has been another Scot, my friend Sinclair Ferguson. It’s entirely fitting that his book Maturity should be the companion to Eric Liddell’s biography Running the Race, available this month from Truth For Life. I have no doubt that you’ll benefit immensely from both.
Thank you for the way in which you continue to join us in this Gospel venture. Your prayerful generosity paves the way for others to join the race and run on to maturity.
For all of the team and with my love in the Lord Jesus,
PS. I’m no movie buff; I didn’t have a TV until I was twelve. I finally convinced my parents that it would be okay for me to go to a movie. I was fifteen, and the movie was The Ten Commandments. I broke new ground when they agreed to my seeing The Sound of Music. I have no regrets. I bless their memory.
Topics: Letters From Alistair Begg