One word written by one man over 500,000 times on the streets of Sydney (Australia) for thirty-five years would inspire millions.
When Arthur Stace awoke hungover in a gutter on that Wednesday morning – he wouldn’t have contemplated that thirty years after his death his writing would be read by over two billion people.
The date was August 6, 1930 and Arthur Stace had been sleeping rough in the streets of Sydney for ten years. His addiction to methylated spirits had been his decade-long closest friend robbing him of home and health. As the fog slowly cleared in his head that Wednesday he contemplated attending a nearby church. His motivation wasn’t spiritual but more rudimentary – the church offered homeless men a small meal if they would sit through a sermon from the minister.
Yet something unexpected would happen that night to Arthur. The minister spoke to the homeless men gathered at the church about a Creator who wished for an eternity with each of them – and something supernatural quickened the heart of an alcoholic. Arthur Stace later joked that he came to St. Barnabas Church for a rock cake but left with the “Rock of Ages” – Jesus Christ.
Through his commitment to his Saviour, Arthur’s life began a renovation. He “cleaned himself up”, earned himself a job, and began to help out in ministries at the church aiding other homeless men. Arthur Stace became an example of the direction given in Galatians 6:2 – “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.”
Like many men in the 1930’s of Australia, Arthur Stace only had a primary school education – so reading and writing was a difficulty for him. So it would seem incredulous at the time that decades later millions of people would be inspired by his one-word-sermon.
Two years into his Christian faith in 1932 Arthur was attending a Monday night church service. The preacher (himself a veteran of the Great War – just like Arthur) quoted Isaiah 57:15 and exclaimed “Eternity! I wish that I could sound or shout that word to everyone in the streets of Sydney…..where will you spend “Eternity”?”
Arthur Stace felt compelled. He walked out of the building onto the street outside the church and felt in his pocket where he found a piece of chalk. Arthur would later say: “(The word) “Eternity” (was) ringing through my brain and suddenly I began crying and felt a powerful call from the Lord to write.”
On the pavement he knelt down and wrote out that word – “Eternity” – in white chalk with a beautiful swirl.
The next morning Arthur woke at 4am and prayed. He again felt compelled to go out in the streets while it was still dark and write again the word “Eternity”. And he did so – only this time the wrote it every 100 metres or so for the next few hours – about 50 times in total. As people made their way to work later that morning they saw the word “Eternity” in bold, beautiful script throughout their suburb – and they wondered what it meant.
Arthur would later 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.”
Arthur Stace would continue writing this word “Eternity” each day before dawn for the next 35 years – until his death in 1967.
During this time this one word sermon became famous on the streets of Sydney. It caused an entire city to contemplate life’s shortness and also the possibility of what happens after we die. They also wondered who was writing the word, with children exhilarated to see “Eternity” written in their suburb in the famous copperplate script, and newspapers offering front-page possibilities as to who the author was and also the word’s meaning.
On the few occasions the police would catch Arthur pre-dawn with chalk in hand, Arthur would tell them he “had permission from a higher source” to graffiti the streets – and because the word was only in chalk the police would let him go.
One word – washed away in the next rain.
One word – written with passion and dedication for decades.
One word – that captured the city’s heart.
Arthur Stace died in 1967 knowing he’d faithfully followed his Saviour. And yet, thirty-three years after Arthur’s death there would be a resurrection.
At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve in 1999 with Sydney’s world-famous fire works in full swing – and an estimated billion people watching on television with Sydney as the first major world-city to welcome in the new millennium – the culmination of the celebration was the lighting up of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. And there was Arthur’s famous swirl of a word “Eternity” emblazoned across the famous coathanger as the crescendo.
The word once again inspired so many people that Arthur’s “Eternity” was used again a few months later at the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
One word – “Eternity” – where will you spend yours?
As the biblical prophet Isaiah wrote 2,700 years ago: ‘For this is what the high and exalted One says— He who lives for eternity: “While I live in a high and holy place – I also live with anyone who has a contrite and lowly spirit. For I revive the spirit of the lowly and also the hearts of those contrite.” ‘ (Isaiah 57:15)
About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a Christian minister residing on the Gold Coast in Australia. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series – which you can subscribe to by clicking “follow” on this website.