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Eric Liddell: Charles Templeton

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Category Articles
Date December 20, 2006

Most of you know the story about Eric Liddell, the gold medallist in the 400 meters in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, how he refused to run on Sunday and forfeited his place in the 100 meters, opting to run a race which was not his speciality. What you may not know is that Eric was born in 1902 in China, his parents being missionaries there. As a young boy Eric and his older brother Rob were sent back to Scotland to attend a Christian boarding school. Both became outstanding athletes, with Eric eventually outshining his brother in that regard. Eric ran his last competitive race in 1925, winning the 100, 200, and 400 meter races. Two days later he boarded a train which took him across Europe and Russia to China where he became a missionary, eventually travelling from village to village, preaching the gospel of Christ.

He married at the age of 31 and when the Japanese invaded China in the late 1930’s he believed it too dangerous for his wife and two daughters to remain there, so in the summer of 1940 he put them on a Japanese ship headed for Canada. Their hope was that they would be separated for no more than two years. They never saw each other again on this earth. In March, 1943 the Japanese put all western missionaries and businessmen in a camp with meagre food rations. Life was hard but Eric preached, taught science to the high school students, gave his food to those in need, and stood in line to receive coal for heating for those too weak to do so for themselves. He died in February, 1945, at the age of 43, from a brain tumour. Near the end of his life a Salvation Army band was playing outside the hospital and he sent a messenger to them, asking that they play ‘Be Still, My Soul’, knowing that he indeed would soon forever be with the Lord.

Charles Templeton was a hell-raising young newspaper reporter in the 1940’s when after a night of drinking and carousing, he said that he met God. Shortly thereafter Templeton became a preacher and in 1945 he and Billy Graham toured post war Europe, preaching in crusades for Youth For Christ. Templeton was a very gifted communicator. However he soon questioned the authority of Scripture and eventually walked away, not only from preaching but from the Christian faith altogether. He became an author, one of his books being entitled Farewell to God: My Reasons For Rejecting The Christian Faith.

A stark contrast, don’t you think? What is the difference between Eric Liddell persevering through great suffering and deprivation and Charles Templeton who, when seeing suffering in the world, became an agnostic?

You already know that suffering is normative in this world. You have and will suffer. We live in a fallen world where death, sickness, injustice are all too familiar. The question is – how will you respond to it? The writer to the Hebrews gives three principles in Hebrews 10:32-39 which will help you live by faith, to persevere in hard times. In verses 32-34 he says that you are to remember how God has sustained you in former times. More specifically he suggests that you name very specifically what those trials were. See verses 33, 34. He then says that you are to remember how God sustained you, provided for you in those trials, verses 32, 34; “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathised with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”

Second, he suggests you think very logically, saying to yourself, “If God sustained me in the past, then why would I throw away that confidence in the midst of this present trial? That’s a stupid thing to do,” verses 35, 36. More specifically he tells you not to panic, not to throw away, not to jettison your faith. He tells you to hold firm to what you know is true. You are to endure, to persevere.

Finally he says you are to look to your future reward, verses 37-39. There is a warning to those who shrink back, who do not trust in the Lord; but there is also a promise of great glory to those who believe, who persevere to the end, and the true Christian will persevere to the end.

Jesus told His worried disciples in John 14:1ff not to be troubled, that in His Father’s house were many mansions, that He was going there to prepare one for them. You cannot possibly, in your wildest dreams, imagine the glory which awaits you in heaven. If I go to stone age tribal people in Papua New Guinea who live in primitive grass huts and describe to them the size, grandeur, and majesty of the mansions in the Hamptons on Long Island, they will not be able to comprehend what I am saying. They simply have no frame of reference. How much greater for you, when you hear Jesus speak of a mansion for you in heaven! So it is beyond your ability to comprehend the grandeur and majesty of that which awaits you.

Are you presently in great distress, tribulation? Think back to specific trials of your past. How did God sustain you then? Why would you throw away that confidence now? Keep telling yourself how foolish that would be. And then look to the day when you will rest from your labours, when every tear will be wiped away, when you will be forever with the Lord. Indeed the righteous ones will live by faith.

Al Baker is the Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

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