For the Glory: Olympic Legend Eric Liddell’s Journey of Faith and Survival

A review

As I write, an LP album is playing in the background. Yes, you read that correctly – at 60, I still have a record player and a few albums! This one, Eric Robertson: Piano Hits, brings me back to 1982. The specific cut I’m listening to is Chariots of Fire.

Sport aficionados will be familiar with the name of Eric Liddell (1902-45). He was a gold medalist in the 1924 Paris Olympics and the main character in the 1981 film, Chariots of Fire. The instrumental theme Eric Robertson is playing was written for the soundtrack of this film. Famously, Liddell refused to run on Sunday, his personal religious conviction leading to ridicule by many.

Perhaps less well known is the Scot’s post-Olympic missionary work in China and his end in a Japanese work camp during the Second World War.

Duncan Hamilton, a sportswriter in the United Kingdom, has captured all this and more in his detailed and vivid biography, For the Glory: Olympic Legend Eric Liddell’s Journey of Faith and Survival (2016). Liddell ran and lived for the glory – God’s glory. He possessed, Hamilton writes, “unbreakable faith.”

Liddell’s astonishing athletic achievements and later missionary work reveal a decent man whose life can only be understood by his love of God and humanity. The two flowed seamlessly in his life.

As Hamilton puts it, “everything [Liddell] did was selfless, each kind act bespoke for someone else’s benefit.”

There’s a Canadian connection to the Liddell story. When he saw war with Japan on the horizon, he put his pregnant wife, Florence, and their children on a boat to Canada, planning on joining them at the earliest opportunity, to work with the poor and underprivileged. Such was not to be, for he finished his life’s race – the only one that ultimately matters – in a Japanese internment camp.

Duncan’s For the Glory should be read in conjunction with an earlier biography, Eric Liddell: Pure Gold (2001). “This,” author David McCasland writes, “is the larger story of the man who went the distance in life, and of the woman who ran with him in his greatest race.” Interestingly, Duncan dedicates his book in memory of Florence Liddell, “Some wife. Some mother. Some woman.”

Both books are inspiring and challenging reads. The reader cannot help but be impressed by the degree to which the Flying Scotsman excelled in athletics. At the same time, Liddell’s life serves as a clarion call to believers that our worth is measured, not by worldly acclaim, but by serving and following Christ.

As I read, I was reminded of the words of the author of the Book of Hebrews, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” (12:1-2, NASB).

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Following a 35-year career as an ordained minister, Burton K. Janes is now a freelance editor, writer and online instructor. He lives in Newfoundland where he maintains his own blog

About the author