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Book Review – Pure Gold

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Because of the surprise hit Chariots of Fire, the world knows the name Eric Liddell. Most people also know about the stand he made for his beliefs as he refused to run an Olympic race he was favored to win simply because the race was scheduled for Sunday. Those who have seen the movie know that it ends shortly after he wins an Olympic gold medal in an event in which he had barely trained. But in Pure Gold, a biography of Liddell weighing in at 333 pages, the race is complete by the ninety-eighth page. There is much more to Liddell than the movie portrays.

Eric Liddell is a man who was sold out to God. He regarded his own desires and his own comforts as secondary to God’s. Raised as the son of a missionary, he grew up away from his parents, for in those days children were left in their native country to receive their training, often seeing their parents only once every six or seven years. There was a period of over a decade in Liddell’s life where he was with his parents for only 100 days. Despite the seperation, he received strong training, primarily in the Bible.

While he grew both academically and spiritually, people also came to realize that Liddell had a gift for speed. He was fast. He was also uncouth, with a running style all his own. He would start like any other runner, but as he approached the finish line, he would throw his head back and his arms would begin to flail. Yet somehow, rather than slow him down, this gave him a burst of speed that often led him to victory.

Some of his exploits from his early days are famous, such as the time he fell in a 400-meter race, but managed to climb to his feet and work his way back into first place, making up a deficit of over ten meters. And as we know from the movie, he earned a position on the British Olympic squad at the 1924 Olympic Games where he came away with two medals, a gold and a bronze. He returned to his native Scotland a hero – far and away the best-known athlete in the nation. It was this fame that provided the springboard for his mission work. Despite being a shy and quiet man, he criss-crossed the country, speaking before hundreds of thousands of people, telling them about the Lord and encouraging them to give their lives to Him.

At the very pinnacle of his athletic success, Liddell laid it all aside to become a missionary to China, the country his father had served when Eric was a boy and the country he continued to serve to that day. Liddell counted his prestige as nothing and moved to the mission field. He served the rest of his life in China before his eventual death in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War. It is this period of his life that so few know about, yet this is where we see Liddell at his finest. It is here that we see the power and effectiveness of a life that is sold out to God.

This biography is well-written, inspiring and highly-recommended. It presents Liddell as he really was and helps the reader understand the foundation for his life. It portrays Liddell in his strength and in his weakness, through joy and sadness. It portrays the consistency of a man who lived in the same way when the eyes of the nation were upon him, or when he stood only before the eyes of the Lord.

While Chariots of Fire has done much to bring Liddell to the public eye, and while it presented the man accurately, it tells less than half the story. However, the race which forms the climax to the movie can well be seen as a metaphor for Liddell’s life. He finished the race of life the same way he had finished so many races long before – with his arms flailing and his head turned to the sky, enraptured purely with the joy of running.

On the whole the theology is solid.
Very well-written and easily readable.
I don’t know of a better biography of Liddell.
It is a joy and privilege to learn from those who have run the race before us.
A wonderful biography and one I am glad to recommend.
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