On 30 July 2017, many of the people of Sydney celebrated the 50th anniversary of Arthur Stace, or Mr. Eternity as he became affectionately known.
His is a very simple story, but a very important one.
His upbringing was squalid.
He was born in a slum in Balmain, a Sydney suburb, in 1884. His father and mother were both alcoholics. His two sisters and two brothers were also alcoholics and they spent much of their time in jail. The sisters ran a brothel.
Stace used to sleep on bags under the house and when his parents were drunk, he had to look after himself. He used to steal milk from the doorsteps, pick scraps of food out of garbage and shoplift cakes and lollies.
He had almost no formal education. At the age of twelve he became a state ward. When he was fourteen he had his first job in one of the coal mines around Balmain.
He had learned to drink at home and became a wandering drunk, living in a fog of alcohol.
He went to jail for the first time when he was fifteen.
During the First World War he enlisted in the 19th Battalion, went to France and returned home, having been gassed and now half blind in one eye. His drinking continued and when he was living on handouts, he was reduced to drinking methylated spirits.
He eventually became so desperate to give up the drink that he even asked a police sergeant to lock him up.
At that time, the church of St Barnabas provided tea and cakes to the down and outs in their church hall.
Arthur Stace went to join them and found about 300 men present, mostly down and outs. However, they had to endure an hour and half of talking before they received their tea and rock cakes. He noticed six people sitting at the front of the hall with the Archdeacon, all looking very clean. They made a remarkable contrast to the 300 grubby-looking men in the audience.
Stace asked who they were. He was told they were Christians. Stace said: “Well look at them and look at us. I’m having a go at what they have got.”
Arthur Stace knew that his life was in a mess. He knew that he needed to change. And he knew that he needed help. After the service was over, he crossed the road to Victoria Park where he sat under a tree and committed his life to Jesus Christ.
Over the next few weeks, Stace found that he was able to give up drink and he said: “As I got back my self-respect, people were more decent to me.”
A few months later he went to a Baptist Church where the Reverend John Ridley was preaching about the fact that forgiveness from God can only be found in Jesus Christ. Ridley told his audience that men and women everywhere must think about Eternity and where they will spend it.
He shouted: “I wish I could shout ETERNITY through the streets of Sydney.”
That made a deep impression on Arthur Stace. Remembering that day, he said: “The minister repeated himself and kept shouting ‘ETERNITY, ETERNITY’ and his words were ringing through my brain as I left the church. Suddenly I began crying and I felt a powerful call from the Lord to write ‘ETERNITY’”.
"I had a piece of chalk in my pocket and I bent down there and wrote it.”
"The funny thing is that before I wrote I could hardly have spelled my own name. I had no schooling and I couldn’t have spelt ‘ETERNITY’ for a hundred quid. But it came out smoothly in beautiful copperplate script. I couldn’t understand it and I still can’t.”
From that moment on, he devoted the rest of his life to writing the word “Eternity” throughout Sydney. He rose at 4:00am, prayed for an hour, had breakfast, then he set out for the suburb he had in mind and arrived there before dawn. He wrote his message every 100 yards or so where it could be seen best – and then he was back home around 10:00am.
He passionately wanted everyone to pause and think about how they would spend Eternity. Would it be with Jesus? Or would it be without him?
Half a million times, Arthur Stace bent down and wrote that word “Eternity” on the footpaths of Sydney. And it made a difference. It made a difference to generations of Sydney-siders, so much so that 10 years after his death that word, Eternity, in cast aluminium, was set in pebbles near the Sydney Square Waterfall.
But perhaps the most fitting memorial to Arthur Stace came on 1st January 2000 in the Millennium celebrations when, via television, two billion people saw that word “Eternity” in the copperplate handwriting of Arthur Stace, on the side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
It is a lovely story. But it’s more than a lovely story. And for it to have a happy ending for us, we need to know the answer to where we will spend eternity.
Have you ever given thought to Eternity?
Do you know where will you spend Eternity?
Will it be with Jesus - or without Him?
If you are unsure as to how you would answer that question and you’d like to know about how you can be sure of spending eternity in heaven with Jesus then please contact the Vicar, Peter Tizzard on 01843 853732 or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, you can find a simple outline of the heart of the Christian faith at http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/2wtl/ - click on the orange J to get started.
We regularly run the Christianity Explored course. You can find general details of that at https://christianityexplored.org/.
The next course will begin on 24 April 2018. Please email Peter if you’d be interested in joining us.