Through the wonder of satellite television, on December 31, 1999 many of us watched the Millennial celebrations around the world as they occurred. I particularly remember the fireworks display over the harbor of Sydney, Australia. At the conclusion of the spectacular fireworks, the television camera zoomed in on the bridge over the harbor. There, written in lights on the structure of the bridge in Copperplate type-style, was the word “Eternity.” My wife and I looked at each other in disbelief. There, on the cusp of a new millennium, was the word ETERNITY displayed for all the world to see. Why would a secular event display what might be a spiritual message? It is estimated that over two billion people saw this display on the Sydney Harbour bridge.
Sydney Harbour - December 31, 1999
I later found the story behind the exhibition of "Eternity" on the bridge. It is a wonderful story, and I publish it again for those who have more recently joined my mailing list. This story demonstrates the mighty power of God and how He works through the most undistinguished people. The power of God is shown in the life of Arthur Stace, a man without any of the advantages normally ascribed to influential people.
Brother Stace was born to alcoholic parents. He and his sisters stole food to feed themselves as children. He became a ward of the state at age twelve. He was not an imposing man, being only five feet, three inches tall. His sisters became prostitutes and he became a criminal. Because of his small size he was an excellent “lookout man” for thieves. He became an alcoholic himself. These are not the credentials of a man that the people of this world would consider important. But the Lord does not depend on credentials. “... for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (Second Corinthians 12:9)
The following are excerpts from a book written by Keith Dunstan:
- During the First World War Arthur Stace enlisted in the 19th Battalion, went to France and returned home gassed and half blind in one eye. Back in Australia he took up his old habits, drink in particular. He slipped from beer, to whisky, to gin, to rum, to cheap wine until finally living on hand-outs. All he could afford was metholated spirits (denatured alcohol) at sixpence a bottle. His alcoholism was so extreme his mind began to go and he was in danger of becoming a permanent inmate of the asylum.
- This was the Depression Era and a metho drinker, dirty, wretchedly dressed, had to be the least likely of any to get a job. In downtown Sydney there was a group (of unemployed men) walking up Broadway. The word had got around that a cup of tea and something to eat was available at the Church Hall. In the nineteen thirties one would endure almost anything for free food.
- The date was August 6, 1930 and it was a meeting for men conducted by Archdeacon Hammond of St Barnabas' Church on Broadway (in Sydney). There were about 300 men present, mostly down and outs, but they had to endure an hour and half of talking before they received their tea and rock cakes. Up front there were six people on a separate seat, all looking very clean, spruce and nicely turned out, a remarkable contrast to the 300 grubby-looking males in the audience. Stace said to the man sitting next to him, a well-known criminal: "Who are they?" "I'd reckon they'd be Christians", he replied. Stace said: "Well look at them and look at us. I'm having a go at what they have got," and he slipped down on his knees and prayed.
- Some months later in the Burton Street Baptist Church at Darlinghurst he heard the evangelist, John Ridley. Ridley shouted: "I wish I could shout ETERNITY through the streets of Sydney". Stace, recalling the day, said: "He repeated himself and kept shouting 'ETERNITY, ETERNITY' and his words were ringing through my brain as I left the church. Suddenly I began crying and I felt a powerful call from the Lord to write 'ETERNITY'. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket and I bent down there and wrote it. The funny thing is that before I wrote I could hardly have spelled my own name. I had no schooling and I couldn't have spelt 'ETERNITY' for hundred quid. But it came out smoothly in beautiful Copperplate script. I couldn't understand it and I still can't".
- Stace claimed that normally his handwriting was appalling and his friends found it illegible. He demonstrated this to a Sydney Daily Telegraph reporter. He wrote ETERNITY which snaked across the pavement gracefully with rich curves and flourishes, but when he wrote his own name "Arthur" it was almost unreadable. "I've tried and tried but 'ETERNITY' is the only word that comes out in Copperplate (type-style)", he said.
- He had some problems. The City Council had a rule against defacing the pavement and the police "very nearly arrested" him twenty-four times. "But I had permission from a higher source", he said.
- He started early, usually before dawn, and he wandered through all the streets of Sydney. Every morning he was somewhere else, as he said - where God directed him. Every night the message appeared in his head. He was a very little man, bent, grey-haired, only five feet three inches tall and weighed just seven stone (100 pounds). He looked frail enough to blow away. Then with the formality of another generation he always wore a grey felt hat, tie and prim double-breasted navy blue suit. Sometimes in the dawn light he would be seen around Wynyard Station. He would nod to the drunks still left on the pavement or trying to keep warm under newspapers. If he detected any movement there would be a pat on the head or a warm greeting. He had the air of a man who understood.
- As he walked every so often he would stop, pull out a piece of chalk, bend down and write on the pavement in large, elegant copperplate - ETERNITY. He would move on a hundred yards then write it again, ETERNITY, nothing more, just one simple word. For thirty-seven years he chalked this one-word sermon more than half a million times.
- The ETERNITY signs mystified Sydney. They were an enigma. Sydney columnists wrote about it, speculated on the author, and several people walked into newspaper offices and announced that they were the author. The real man kept quiet.
Arthur Stace posing for the Daily Telegraph - 1956
Later, the City of Sydney honored Arthur Stace as the Man of the Millennium and during the Millennial celebrations placed his one-word message on the bridge over Sydney Harbour for all the world to see. The Lord used a small, unimportant man to present the message of Eternity to a large part of the world. We all have a part in the Lord's great plan. How wonderfully He used the faithfulness of Arthur Stace. We should consider how the Lord can use us.
- The mystery all came clear in 1956 and the man who cracked it was Lisle M. Thompson of the Burton Street Baptist Church. Arthur Stace was actually the church cleaner and one of their prayer leaders. One day Thompson saw Stace take out his chalk and write the famous ETERNITY on the pavement. He did it without realizing that he has been spotted. Thompson said, "Are you Mr. Eternity?" and Stace replied, “Guilty Your Honor.”
- Arthur Stace died of a stroke in a nursing home on July 30, 1967.There were suggestions that the city should put down a plaque to his memory. It was suggested that there should be a statue in Railway Square depicting Stace kneeling, chalk in hand. Ten years after his death, Ridley Smith, architect of Sydney Square set the message ETERNITY in cast aluminum, near the Sydney Square waterfall. In letters almost 8 inches high the famous Copperplate message ETERNITY was displayed. The one word sermon gleams. There's no undue prominence. No garish presentation. Merely the simple ETERNITY on concrete as Arthur Stace would have wanted it.
I look forward to meeting Brother Stace in Glory.
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