Olympics and Eternity
In the extraordinary opening ceremony to mark the opening of the Olympic Games one of the climaxes of the evening was to see that one word that hung suspended from the giant arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The word was ‘ETERNITY’. It had also been hanging there on January 1 to greet the dawning of the year 2000.
Like a message from Heaven flashed across the world stage to billions of souls, it shone like a beacon, warning that time is swiftly passing and we are creatures of eternity. This was a sermon in a word, the magnitude of which can only be grasped as one understands the story behind it.
In downtown Sydney, set in the pavement at Sydney Square, is the same inescapable word, ‘Eternity’, in faultless copperplate writing. It was put there to perpetuate the memory of Sydney’s unique citizen, Arthur Stace, otherwise known as Mr Eternity.
Arthur was a thin little man no more than 5 feet 3 inches in stature. He was uneducated and on his own testimony could barely write his name. His wife would read him his mail and he would tell her what to write in reply; yet for 33 years this incredible man would rise at 5 o’clock each morning to walk the streets of Sydney and its far-flung suburbs to write with chalk in flawless copperplate style on the pavements just one word, ‘Eternity’. Day after day with a commitment and passion rarely equalled, he preached his sermon to the busy crowds of shoppers and workers. It is estimated that this simple, yet profound message, was repeated over 500,000 times.
In many ways the word was mysterious, for no one knew who was responsible for this elegant graffiti that adorned the pavement. Newspaper journalists wrote about it and people everywhere discussed it. It could be in the heart of the city one day, and in the suburbs the next. It even appeared in Melbourne, 1000 miles away. Journalists referred to its author as Mr Eternity, and each day people would remark, ‘Mr Eternity has struck again!’ Occasionally the message would change to ‘Obey God’, but quickly reverted to the simple one-word sermon ‘Eternity’. One day in 1956, after 24 years of mystery, Mr Thompson, Arthur’s pastor, saw him writing the mysterious word on the pavement ‘Are you Mr Eternity?’ he asked. Back came the answer, ‘Guilty, your honour!’
Once Mr Eternity’s identity was known interviews were arranged with the media, and the Daily Telegraph published a full report on 21 June 1956. In 1994 a TV documentary was produced on his life and shown across the nation. A Sydney poet has written his story in verse.
Arthur Stace was born in Sydney in 1854. His father was an alcoholic and his mother ran a brothel. He had two brothers, both of whom died of alcoholism. His two sisters ran a brothel.
During childhood the five Stace children had to fend for themselves. It is said that the children frequently slept on hessian bags under the house to escape the wrath of a violent, drunken father. He stole to eat, and at the age of 12 was made a state ward. He received no education. When 14 years old he worked in a coal mine, and at 15 served his first jail sentence. He was by then a heavy drinker. He served in the War 1914-18 as a stretcher-bearer and drummer in France. In 1919 he returned to Sydney and was discharged, suffering from shell shock, and the alcoholism which destroyed his father soon controlled him. He wandered the streets feeding out of rubbish bins. Methylated spirits became a cheap escape.
In August 1930, during the Great Depression, Arthur Stace wandered into ‘A Meeting for needy men’, where R. B. S. Harpmond, a strong evangelical, presented the Gospel of Jesus Christ and supplied each man with a cup of tea and a rock cake. After the meeting Arthur made his way out of the hall, across Broadway into Sydney University Park. There, under a big Morton Bay fig tree he fell on his knees to the ground and with tears of repentance streaming down his face cried out, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ That cry was the pivot on which Arthur’s life turned. His was a genuine conversion to Christ, and for the next 37 years his life was a living testimony to God’s saving and keeping power. At that instant God heard his cry and he became a child of God. He could say as the hymn writer has put it, ‘My sins which were many are all washed away!’ Later Arthur testified:
‘I went in to get a cup of tea and a rock-cake, but I met the Rock of Ages.’
Let those who doubt that God can hear the sinner’s cry, and answer in infinite love and power to lift him into glorious liberty from sins slavery, take heed to the testimony of this little meth drinker and petty criminal who, by the grace of God, became Mr Eternity. And let it be known by all that Arthur Stace is not the only one to experience the mercy of God. Millions have found the joy of salvation by trusting the Saviour. Not all had the same background, but all needed to be saved.
When Arthur Stace turned to God and found mercy he realized that every other person needed to do the same. That is why, for 33 years, he walked the streets from the early hours of the morning preaching his one-word sermon, ‘Eternity’. ‘Eternity’, to him, was the everlasting destiny of every soul to be spent in Heaven or Hell, and concern for his fellow man drove him on day after day. He knew the forgiveness of God in his own life and wanted others to have the same assurance.
In November 1932 an evangelist John G. Ridley conducted evangelistic meetings, where Arthur was attending. The forceful preacher had for his text Isaiah 57:15, ‘Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity’ stressing the word eternity, the preacher cried, ‘Eternity! Eternity! I wish I could sound or shout that word to everyone in the Streets of Sydney. Eternity! You have to meet it. Where will you spend eternity?’
Arthur Stace recalled that meeting. He said, ‘Eternity was ringing through my brain, and suddenly I began to cry and felt a powerful call from the Lord to write “Eternity”. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket, and outside the meeting I bent down right there and wrote it … The funny thing is, that before I wrote it I could hardly write my own name. I had no schooling and I couldn’t have spelled “eternity” for a hundred quid. But it came out smoothly, and in beautiful copperplate script. I couldn’t understand it, and I still can’t.’
Now I understand why Sydney’s New Millennium celebration had to be the best in the world. God had a Millennium message for all mankind, and the message is summed up in the Gospel of Christ. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).
Life at best is very brief.
Like the falling of a leaf,
Like the binding of a sheaf,
Be in time:
Fleeting days are telling fast
That the die will soon be cast,
And the fatal line be passed,
Be in time.
J. R. E. abridged
UNITED KINGDOM AND EIRE: Gospel Tract Publications, 85 Portman Street, Glasgow G41 1EJ, Scotland.
AUSTRALIA: Gospel Courier, P.O. Box 1430, Toowoomba, Australia, 4350.
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