Opinion

How an illiterate alcoholic impacted a whole city for eternity

In 1930 in Sydney, an illiterate alcoholic named Arthur Stace heard a sermon that changed his life and, on the footpath outside the church hall, wrote in elegant copperplate the word “Eternity”. It was the start of a remarkable mission.

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For the next three decades, Stace wandered the streets before dawn chalking his one-word sermon to the world on the pavements. He wrote “Eternity” more than half a million times – sometimes 50 times a day.

It intrigued Sydneysiders, who pondered its meaning. It mystified some and fascinated others.

Stace, who could barely write his own name, sometimes tried to write other godly messages but could not. The only word he could write legibly – and beautifully – was “Eternity”.

“I had no schooling and couldn’t have spelt ‘eternity’ for a hundred quid. But suddenly I began crying and felt a powerful call from the Lord to write the word.” – Arthur Stace

He was later to say: “I had no schooling and couldn’t have spelt ‘eternity’ for a hundred quid. But suddenly I began crying and felt a powerful call from the Lord to write the word. It came out smoothly, in a beautiful copperplate script.”

This was faith in action.

The faithfulness of Arthur Stace echoed magnificently around the world at midnight on New Year’s Day 2000 when an estimated two billion people saw that word “Eternity” in the flawless handwriting during a fireworks display on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

A secular and cynical public was transfixed by the story of a seemingly hopeless man motivated by faith and a simple personal encounter with Jesus to discover his unique vocation.

Arthur Stace knew the forgiveness of God in his own life and wanted others to have the same powerful assurance.

That real biblical message of our eternal significance is found most profoundly in such personal encounters and transformation.

And how much we need that eternal perspective in a world that seems to be increasingly faithless and shallow! The magnificent sounds of eternity are often drowned out by the sounds of this temporary existence. The thought that we are meant for something better than this often seems too good to be true. So we run scared and seek distractions.

Cynicism and fear can freeze us. Faith defrosts us. We were born into this world to find eternal truth and the essence of ourselves and we may as well do it with enthusiasm rather than in fear.

As French scientist and mystic Teilhard de Chardin said, our lives will change when we realise we are not human beings having a spiritual experience but spiritual beings having a human experience.

Bible Society Australia will publish a biography of Arthur Stace later this year, marking 50 years of his leaving us to be with the Lord.

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Mr Eternity: The Story of Arthur Stace

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Available from Koorong

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