Isaiah 40 – and famous athlete Eric Liddell

by | Feb 4, 2021 | News and reports

Sunday’s Old Testament reading – Isaiah 40:21-31  – was the passage read by Scottish athlete and missionary Eric Liddell when he was preaching at the Scots Kirk in Paris during the Paris Olympics in 1924. He had refused because of his principles to run in the heats for he 100 metres, his favoured distance because they were held on a Sunday. He went on to win the 400 metres, held on a weekday.

The story of his Olympic Campaign was told in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire in which he was played by  Ian Charleston.  (See clip here or below) It includes Liddell’s reading from Isaiah 40 – though the sequence was shot not in Paris, but according to Wikipedia in the former Broughton Church in Edinburgh.

After the Olympics, in 1925 he returned to China (where he had been born to Scottish missionary parents in 1902) to serve as a missionary teacher. Aside from two furloughs in Scotland, he remained in China until his death in a Japanese civilian internment camp in 1945.

On one occasion he was asked if he ever regretted his decision to leave behind the fame and glory of athletics. Liddell responded, “It’s natural for a chap to think over all that sometimes, but I’m glad I’m at the work I’m engaged in now. A fellow’s life counts for far more at this than the other.”

In 1991 the University of Edinburgh erected a memorial headstone, made from Isle of Man granite and carved by a mason in Tobermory, at the former camp site in Weifang. The simple inscription came from Isaiah 40:31: “They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary.”

 More information about Sunday’s service here.

The film Wings of Eagles tells the story of the latter part of Eric Liddell’s life.  There’s a detailed and moving biography of Liddell on Wikipedia.