Eric Liddell – The Flying Scotsman

It is surrender – Eric Liddell

The Flying Scotsman

Eric Liddell, nicknamed the “Flying Scotsman” after the record breaking locomotive, was born 1902 in North China, the son of Mr and Mrs James Dunlop Liddell, both Scottish missionaries. Liddell  went to school in China until the age of five. At  six years old, he and his brother Robert  were enrolled in Eltham College, Mottingham, a boarding school in England for the sons of missionaries. School officials encouraged him to devote himself to sports, and young Eric soon developed an athlete’s physique. He also began flexing his spiritual muscles, rising early each day to meet the Lord in prayer and Bible study 1.

He developed into a sporting all- rounder  excelling in track and rugby.

As a result of having insufficient time for both, he opted for running, aiming for the 100 meters in the Paris Olympics. When he learned that the heats were to be run on a Sunday, he was not willing to compete and thus miss Church. News of this spread all over Britain with Liddell facing strong opposition for his religious conviction. Britain had expected him to bring back gold for the 100 metres.  He opted to enroll for the 400 meters (a distance he was not prepared for and thus placed him as a stark outsider). Amazingly he won the gold medal for the 400 metres and a bronze medal for the 200 metres! An American handed him the scripture – “Those who honor me I will honor” -(1 Sam 2:30) before the race. He ran with this in his hand.

He was chosen to speak for Glasgow Students’ Evangelical Union because he was a devout Christian. The GSEU hoped that he would draw large crowds to hear the Gospel. The GSEU would send out a group of eight to ten men to an area where they would stay with the local population. It was Liddell’s job to be the lead speaker and to evangelise the men of Scotland.

Fame, however, did not hinder him from following his parents to China . God’s conviction on his heart was first and foremost in his life. He arrived there as a missionary in 1925. When the Japanese invaded in 1937, he remained; and in 1943 he found himself imprisoned in a Japanese camp outside Peking. Conditions were horrific 2.

He worked tirelessly in the camp, doing anything that needed to be done, whether it was bible study, teaching children who were trying to keep up their studies, or organizing sports. In a prisoner exchange bargain, his freedom was arranged by Winston Churchill, but he gave it up and let a pregnant woman leave instead.

In 1944, Liddell became unwell. The doctors did not have the resources to diagnose the real nature of the problem. On February 21, 1945, he began coughing uncontrollably, and as friends came to his aid, he lay back and uttered the words It is surrender”. An autopsy later revealed that Liddell had a large tumour on the left side of his brain. He died never having seen his third child, Maureen Liddell.

A camp survivor was asked the reason for Liddell’s influence at the camp. She replied that every morning he awoke at 6am and spent time with his Lord in prayer and Bible. It was the Flying Scotsman’s lifelong habit, she said, and the secret of his power.

1. & 2. Morgan, R. J. (2000). On this day : 365 amazing and inspiring stories about saints, martyrs & heroes (electronic ed.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.