For more than thirty-five years the residents of Sydney, Australia woke up each and every morning to find the same one word written in yellow chalk in a perfect and elegant copperplate script. This single solitary word was written nightly on sidewalks, on streets, at train station entrances, and on buildings. It was written just about everywhere in the city. It was the mystery of Sydney. It is estimated that the person who wrote this word did so more than one-half million times. But WHO would do this. And, WHY?
The word first appeared in 1932, and the writing went on night after night. The “writer” was a janitor and prayer leader in a Baptist church in Sydney. One night his own pastor spotted him writing the word on the sidewalk. When asked if he was the mystery-man, he replied, “Guilty your honor.”
This mystery-man was not always the Christian man that he turned out to be. He was brought up in an alcoholic family. His schooling was practically non-existent, and by age twelve he was a ward of the state. He could barely write his own name and even that was not legible.
He stole bread, milk and searched garbage bins for scraps of food to survive. He was a small man, about five feet three inches, and frail. Although very poor, he drank heavily and gambled His size aided his ability to become what was known as a “cockatoo”, a person who is a “lookout” during illegal activities. He was also a “scout” for his sister’s brothels and was jailed numerous times. He enlisted in WWI but was given a medical discharge because of chronic bronchitis and pleurisy. He was a repeat scoundrel, and his life was a real mess.
Yet, in one of GOD’S OTHER WAYS©, his life began to turn around one night when he heard a sermon by a Rev. Hammond at a mission church. The world was in the depths of the Great Depression. He had heard that tea and something to eat was available in the church hall. Those in attendance had to listen to Rev. Hammond preach for an hour and a half before they were given the food, but in those days one would do almost anything for food. And, this was free food!
The sermon he heard by Rev. Hammond so inspired him that he got down on his knees that night and accepted Jesus as his Savior. That was in 1930. Two years later our mystery man heard another sermon, this time by an evangelist named John Ridley, who preached:
The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: ‘I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.’ Isaiah 57:15 NASB
In that sermon Ridley said, “What a remarkable, uplifting, glorious word.” Our mystery man repeated that “word” over and over…then he began writing that “word” again and again.
As a new Christian believer he started a new daily routine. He would wake early, have an hour of prayer and a cup of tea. He donned a grey felt hat and dressed formally in a tie and double-breasted suit (custom of the day). He walked the streets and suburbs of Sydney, following the directions he claimed he received from God the night before. Before most people had started their day, he had written that “word” in beautiful copperplate script many, many times.
The life of our mystery-man was greatly changed by those two sermons. His story has even inspired an opera and a movie. He continued his nightly writing and evangelism until his death.
To celebrate the new millennium, the year 2000 began with a burst of multi-colored fireworks that painted Sydney’s sky. When the fireworks finished and the haze of smoke cleared, that “one word” gradually appeared. “It was written in yellow lights across the centre of the Sydney Harbour Bridge arch.” By TV and satellite, it was there for all the world to see!
Our mystery man was ARTHUR STACE. In an interview Stace said that though he was illiterate and could barely write his own name legibly, he felt a powerful call from the Lord to write repeatedly the “one word” perfectly and elegantly in the copperplate style and with flourish.
Several years after he began to write that one word, he tried to write the phrases Obey God and God or Sin, or God 1st, but he couldn’t. He could not write anything else. He could only write that one word, and could write it only in copperplate style.
What was the word he wrote an estimated one-half million times throughout Sydney? It suggests a question we all must answer: Where will YOU spend ETERNITY?
A copy of the word ETERNITY written by Arthur Stace is in the Town Hall in Sydney, Australia.
POSTSCRIPT TO THIS STORY:
He was a thief. He had broken every one of God's commandments, many more than once. He was at the end of his life, and he faced a cold eternity ALONE, separated from the warmth and comfort of God’s love.
Next to him was another man, a man named Jesus, who had never done anything wrong; never broken any commandments. Yet, both men faced crucifixion that day on wooden crosses.
Jesus said of His executioners, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” And when the thief acknowledged his wrongs and believed that the other man was the Son of God, he heard Jesus say, “I forgive you! Today you will be with me in paradise.”
This teaches us that no matter how sinful we have been or have lived…if we acknowledge Jesus Christ as God’s Son… He will forgive us and save us from eternal Hell. We will experience everlasting life in heaven with our loving Lord for ETERNITY!