The more than a million inhabitants of Sydney, Australia, lined the shore of Sydney harbor or were on boats that filled the Sydney harbor. The hour was just before midnight December 31, 1999. The occasion was the bidding farewell to the passing year, century, millennium and the welcoming of a new year, century, millennium-something that none of the living would experience again. The bell tower of the old Sydney Post Office was pealing out the hour; and at the strike of 12, there was a burst of fireworks such as no one had ever seen before. Rockets and colors filled the sky welcoming in the new year, century, millennium. Although there were similar fireworks in scores of cities around the world, none equaled that which was demonstrated that evening in Sydney, Australia.
One of the remarkable features of that occasion was a brilliantly lighted word suspended from the Sydney harbor bridge-one word in immaculate copperplate script: ETERNITY. Why that one word? Why that script? In a sense, it was a memorial to a most unusual man. In a very real sense, it was a sermon in one word-a sermon preached an estimated five hundred thousand times on the pavements of Sydney and even other cities far beyond the boundary of that most populous Australian city.
Arthur Stace is a little-known man, very slight in build and stature (only five foot three). He was born in 1884 in a slum area of Sydney. Both his father and mother were alcoholics as were also his two brothers; and his sisters were the "madams" of a brothel, having learned their trade well from their mother. As a small child, he was totally ignored. He reported that many a night the children slept under the house on burlap bags because of the drunken violence being enacted in the house above them.
From almost his earliest age he became a petty thief, stealing milk and bread and whatever he could find in garbage buckets just to survive. His two brothers eventually died of alcoholism; and, as mentioned, his sisters had a brothel. Arthur, at the age of 12, was already a heavy drinker and was frequently dragged in by the police in a drunken stupor. He went to work in the coal mines at the age of 15, having never spent a day in school. He could barely write his own name.
During World War I he enlisted in the Australian forces and served as a stretcher bearer in France and the war fields of that horrible conflagration. A slight injury damaged one of his eyes. When he returned from France, he took up his old lifestyle of heavy drinking and petty crime. One of his occupations was to be a lookout for authorities and warning the gambling dens and brothel proprietors when police authorities were near. On one occasion, drunken, he staggered into a police station and asked to be locked up, but was refused. He left grumbling, "They lock me up when I don't want to be; and when I want to be, they won't."
In the grips of the Great Depression, there was widespread unemployment; and an Evangelical Anglican Church had what they called a Meeting for Needy Men. He, along with hundreds of other men, would gather, not to hear the preaching, but to get a cup of hot tea and some rock cake. On August 6 of 1930, Arthur wandered into one of those meetings. He noticed that around the edge and at the doors there were some well-dressed men, very different from the majority of those who were in the large hall. He turned to the man sitting beside him and said, "Who are those blokes?" The answer was "They're probably Christians." Arthur said, "I'm having a go at what they've got."
The speaker that day was an outstanding evangelist by the name of Ridley, and Arthur Stace listened attentively as the simple plan of salvation was preached. After his cup of tea and rock cake, he went across the street to the University Park and, falling down under a large fig tree, cried out "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." His was a genuine conversion to Christ. For the next 37 years, his life was a living testimony to God's saving and keeping power. Later he testified "I went in to get a cup of tea and a rock cake, but I met the Rock of Ages."
It was about two years later that, again, under the preaching of an evangelist, he was confronted with the word "Eternity." With the evangelist shouting out that word repeatedly, it found entrance into Stace's heart. He left the hall, went out, and kneeling on the pavement with a piece of chalk that he had in his pocket, he wrote that one word "Eternity." He testified later that he could hardly write his own name; and had he been asked, he would not have had the vaguest idea how to spell the word eternity. But as he knelt there on the pavement, he wrote in beautiful copperplate script that one word. For the next 33 years, he would rise before daylight; and, roaming the streets of Sydney or whatever other city he was in, he would in beautiful script write that one word sermon.
For many years it was unknown who it was that was "defacing" the pavements of Sydney, until one day his pastor found him writing that word. He became known as Mr. Eternity. On rare occasions he would alter the message by writing "Obey God," but it is estimated that over five hundred thousand times he wrote the word "Eternity" somewhere on the pathways of his home city. Even after his death, the word "Eternity" in his characteristic script was found written inside the bell on the clock tower of the Sydney Post Office. How he reached that elevated area and wrote inside the bell, no one knows; but it was so characteristic of his script that it had to be his doing.
He never did learn to read, and any correspondence had to be read to him. When he was in middle age, he finally married; and it was his wife who would read the letters to him and then, as he dictated, respond to the many letters that came to Mr. Eternity.
Arthur Stace was also a street preacher. He would go to one of the most frequented crossroads of the great city of Sydney. His method of preaching was unique. He would put his Bible on the pavement, cover it with his hat, and then walking around that hat, would point at it and say, "It's alive! It's alive! It's alive!" People would gather and wonder what was under his hat, and he would keep saying "It's alive!" Finally, after he had collected a crowd of people, he would lift his hat, pick up the Bible, and tell them that the Word of God was alive and was abundantly able to transform sinful lives into ones redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Although he could not read, he had memorized long portions of Scripture; and as far as the hymns of the faith were concerned, he knew every stanza of many of the great hymns that have blessed the church of Jesus Christ for years.
Arthur was a tireless worker for God. He was 46 years old when he was saved and was married at age 57. On the 30th of July, 1967 at the age of 83, Mr. Eternity suffered a massive stroke and was ushered immediately into the presence of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The word "Eternity," in very large copperplate script and cast in metal, is in the pavement of Sydney Square. That word, "Eternity," that in brilliant lights shown suspended from the arch over the Sydney Bay Bridge at the millennial celebration, still shines. It is estimated that over two billion people have seen the word and have been confronted by its simple but profound message: ETERNITY. Where will you spend it? There are only two places, and a hell-bound sinner who came to Christ changed his destination to that of Heaven. In a moment of time, this illiterate man was changed from a citizen bound for the pit of Hell and became an ambassador for the heavenly home. He was bold in his testimony for what Christ had done for him and what He could do for those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. May we likewise be bold, biblical, and believing in our ministry.