Arthur Stace was a loser, a no-hoper, an alcoholic and completely illiterate. He lived in the streets of Sydney, regarded by many who saw him as a lost cause.
One Sunday night in 1932 he entered St Barnabas’ Anglican Church on Broadway, Sydney, and heard the Reverend T. C. Hammond preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Banner of Truth has published a paperback biography of T. C. Hammond. Arthur was convicted by the Spirit of God. He left the church, crossed the road, and sat under a tree in Victoria Park where he committed his life to Jesus Christ. He had become a new creation.
Later that year he was at the Burton Street Baptist Tabernacle on the corner of Palmer Street, Darlinghurst when he heard the evangelist John G Ridley preaching.
In his urgent, commanding voice, John Ridley cried, “Eternity! Eternity! Oh, that this word could be emblazoned across the streets of Sydney!”
Arthur Stace the little man who still could not read or write left that church, took some yellow chalk, bent down and wrote one word on the footpath. And throughout the night for the next 40 years, while Sydney slept, Arthur would take his chalk and write in immaculate copperplate handwriting the word “eternity” on footpaths, entrances to the train station, and anywhere else he thought it would catch people’s attention.
Sydneysiders would alight from their commuter trains of a morning and see this word as they walked to work.
In Sydney today, you can still see the word in three places…
1) On his gravestone in Waverley Cemetery, commemorating the life of Arthur Stace who had become known as ‘Mr Eternity’.
2) Inside the huge bell in the GPO clock tower which had been dismantled during the second world war. When the clock tower was rebuilt in the 1960s, the bell was brought out of storage and as the workmen were installing the bell they noticed, inside, the word “eternity” in Arthur Stace’s chalk. (No one ever found out how Stace had been able to get to the bell, which had been sealed up, to add this mysterious entry to Sydney’s folklore.)
3) In Town Hall Square, between St Andrew’s Cathedral and the Sydney Town Hall. When the area was redeveloped in the 1970s, a solid brass replica of the word in Stace’s original copperplate handwriting was embedded in the footpath near a fountain as an eternal memorial to Arthur Stace.
As the year 2000 was welcomed, the word “eternity” in Stace’s handwriting, was emblazoned NOT across the streets of Sydney as John Ridley had wished, but across the face of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and, thanks to modern technology, was seen around the world.
Of all the words that have been spoken during the first two millennia, the one chosen by otherwise-godless people to be featured on the Harbour Bridge at the dawn of the year 2000, is the one that was used to remind so many busy Sydneysiders of their impending appointment with their Creator.
Because Sydney’s fireworks display was the first of the international celebrations to be telecast around the globe, people in every continent witnessed the miracle that God performed when he touched the life of one little, ‘insignificant’ man – Arthur Stace – a man who heard the voice of God and responded by committing his life to ‘preaching’ his one-word sermon.
Heaven only knows how God will continue to speak to the hearts of so many people around the globe, using the work He started back in the 1930s through Arthur Stace and his piece of yellow chalk.
Maroubra Baptist Church, Sydney.
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