ETERNITY – WHERE WILL YOU SPEND IT?

For over twenty five years, from 1930 to 1956, the people of Sydney woke up each day to a one-word sermon—”Eternity”—handwritten in white chalk or yellow crayon (when raining) on footpaths, train station platforms, and perimeter walls lining the city’s many walkways and streets. Each day a fresh batch of graffiti rendered in beautiful copperplate lettering style  would appear at places where there weren’t any the previous night. Somehow, for twenty five years, a mysterious figure had managed to sneak into the city every night and leave his presence on the city’s walls and sidewalks. It attracted the ire of Sydney City Council at first, but as the weeks become months, and the months became years, the “Eternity” graffiti became an iconic symbol of the city. Pedestrians stepped around and over the words, and street sweepers and cleaners left the elegant writings untouched. This is some way explains why the “Eternity” graffiti illuminated on the Sydney Harbour Bridge as part of new year’s eve celebration in 2000. The real explanation, God orchestrated it so that many worldwide would be impacted by the “Eternity” message. Arthur Stace was illiterate so it was obvious, certainly to Arthur, that God had initiated it. “I couldn’t understand it, and I still can’t,” Arthur later told in an interview.. But Arthur did know that God had asked him to do it. Arthur was obedient to go out on the streets of Sydney everyday, rain or shine, until the day before he died.

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The “Eternity” graffiti illuminated on the Sydney Harbour Bridge as part of new year’s eve celebration in 2000. Photo credit: National Geographic

The mysterious figure behind the phenomenon, who was to become the most famous graffiti artist in Australia’s history, managed to keep his identity a secret until one morning in June 1956, when he was caught in the act. That morning, Reverend Lisle M. Thompson, who preached at the Burton Street Baptist Church, saw a church cleaner sneak out a piece of chalk from his pocket and write the word on the footpath.

Rev. Thompson approached the cleaner and asked, “Are you Mr. Eternity?”, to which the cleaner replied, “Guilty, your honour.” Soon after that encounter, the Sunday Telegraph published an interview with the artist and the mystery that had baffled Sydney for over 25 years was finally revealed. The cleaner’s name was Arthur Malcolm Stace.

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A rare photo of Arthur Stace – “Mr. Eternity”.

Born in 1885 in Redfern, Stace’s childhood and much of his adulthood was marked by abject poverty. His parents were alcoholics, and his sisters ran a brothel. In order to survive, he resorted to stealing bread and milk and searching for scraps of food in bins. At the age of 12, Stace became a ward of the state and worked briefly in a coal mine. As a teenager, he became an alcoholic and was subsequently sent to jail at 15 for drunkenness. His twenties were spent running liquor between pubs and brothels, and working as a lookout for gambling dens. During the First World War, Stace found work as a laborer with the Australian Imperial Force, but his recurring bouts of bronchitis and pleurisy led him to be discharged.

Stace finally found his calling in November 1932, when he went to listen to a Baptist preacher named John Ridley give a sermon. In a homily titled “Echoes of Eternity“, Ridley declared: “Eternity, Eternity, I wish that I could sound or shout that word to everyone in the streets of Sydney. You’ve got to meet it, where will you spend Eternity?“. The words so captivated Stace that at that very moment, Stace pulled a piece of chalk he had in his pocket, bent down and wrote the word “Eternity” on the church floor.

Even though he was illiterate and could hardly write his own name legibly, the word ‘Eternity‘ came out smoothly, in a beautiful copperplate script. Arthur had to ask the person next to him what he had written.

God has a calling for each one of us, what is yours? Don’t know, then get into prayer until you do. Also, will you be obedient as Arthur was to carry it out regardless of the cost?

The story of Arthur Stace (Acorn Press, 2017)

THE MAN BEHIND MR. ETERNITY!

The Australian evangelist John G. Ridley was a purpose-driven communicator and a painter of word-pictures whose pen was mighty, because of the sword of the spirit. He was not one to shy away from confronting his hearers with the truth of their eternal life and challenging their hearts to trust his everlasting Lord. He sowed faithfulness to the message of salvation here on earth and reaped fruitfulness in the ministry and service for time and eternity.

And speaking of eternity, God used his preaching to influence Arthur Stace (Mr. Eternity) to go out and write the word Eternity on the streets of Sydney and beyond.

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Here is a little of what happened. It was a Sunday night November 14th at the Burton Street Baptist Tabernacle, Darlinghurst, Sydney, where John was preaching his now famous message  “The Echoes of Eternity”. 

The veteran evangelist stood with the power of scripture in his hand and the love of Christ in his heart and stressed the word Eternity. He pointed out how the Echoes of Eternity are heard not only in Creation and the Christian but also in The Cross .
Then suddenly, laying his prepared notes aside and seemingly in an impromptu fashion, the highly disciplined soldier-like preacher, raised his loud voice and cried: “Eternity, Eternity, I wish that I could sound or shout that word to everyone in the streets of Sydney. You’ve got to meet it, where will you spend Eternity.” 

Arthur Stace converted  to Christ at the  St Barnabas Church, Broadway in Sydney a few years before, was one of many in the large congregation that God-ordained night. “Eternity went ringing through my brain” was Stace’s statement” and suddenly I began crying and felt a powerful call from the Lord to write Eternity. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket and outside the church, 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 spelt  for a hundred quid. But it came out smoothly, in a beautiful copperplate script. I couldn’t understand it, and I still can’t.”

Arthur knew this was God’s task for him and rain or shine he faithfully went out six nights a week to write Eternity on the streets of Sydney until  the very night God took Arthur home. God powerfully used Arthur’s faithfulness to impact the lives of many for Jesus Christ.