At the dawn of any new year, the first pictures are usually beamed worldwide from Sydney, Australia, and the start of the new millennium was no exception.
On the first day of January 2000, more than two billion people throughout the world are reckoned to have seen the word ‘Eternity’ illuminated in large letters on the side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Few, however, knew the remarkable story that lay behind that word.
Arthur Stace was born in a Sydney slum on 9 February 1885, to alcoholic parents. Sadly, the parents not only wrecked their own lives with alcohol but also passed on the addiction to their children. Arthur’s two sisters operated a brothel (for which he acted as a scout) and eventually both his parents and four of his siblings died as drunkards and vagrants. With no parental support whatever, Arthur had to survive by his wits, and he quickly fell into petty theft, stealing milk from doorsteps, picking scraps of food out of garbage bins and pilfering goods from shops. Having had hardly any education whatever, he was illiterate, and by 15 he unsurprisingly landed in jail.
Relief came for Arthur in 1916, when he joined the Australian Army to serve in World War I. Despite his small stature (just 5’3” and 7 stone) and his criminal record, he was accepted due to a shortage of troops, and served in France as a stretcher bearer. Here he witnessed the most appalling scenes as he recovered the shattered bodies of his comrades, returning from the war after being gassed himself and partially blinded in one eye.
Back in Sydney, Arthur was soon back on the booze, only now he was so desperate to fix his habit that he resorted to drinking that last deadly hurrah of alcoholics – methylated spirits. However, by the grace of God, salvation was at hand.
One day Arthur heard that he could get a cup of tea and something to eat at a Sydney church called St Barnabas in Broadway. He went and found about 300 were present at the men’s meeting, mostly down-and-outs like himself. The men sat through an hour and a half of gospel preaching led by Archdeacon RBS Hammond before they received their tea and food.
It was then that Arthur noticed six men on a separate seat, all looking well dressed and quite different from the rest of the 300 grubby-looking men in the room. Arthur asked the man sitting next to him (a well-known criminal), “Who are they?” to which the man replied, “I reckon that they be Christians.” Arthur shot back, “Well look at them and look at us. I want what they’ve got.”
Arthur knew his life was in a complete mess and that he needed to change. But having heard the gospel and seeing these men he now knew where to find the one who could help him – Jesus Christ. That day – Wednesday 6 August 1930 – he found the Saviour and left the meeting a changed man. So changed, in fact, that over the next few weeks, he found strength to give up drinking and land a job.
Two years later, an evangelist named John Ridley came to preach in Sydney. Arthur was particularly keen to hear him because Ridley had been awarded the Military Cross for his bravery in France in 1917. When Ridley preached on ‘The Echoes of Eternity’ from Isaiah 57:15, the word ‘Eternity’ resonated with Arthur who, like Ridley, had faced issues with his own mortality daily on the battlefields of France.
During his sermon, Ridley cried out, “Eternity, Eternity, I wish 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?” and Arthur made a decision to witness to his faith in a unique way. In an interview years later he said, “Eternity went ringing through my brain and suddenly I began crying and felt a powerful call from the Lord to write ‘Eternity’.”
This article was taken from issue #42 of Heroes of the Faith.
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