Roy Williams with Elizabeth Meyers
Mr Eternity: The Story of Arthur Stace
Acorn Press, Sydney, NSW, 2017
ISBN-13: 978-0994616654

 Mr Eternity

 

"An easily digestible, well-paced and insightful book that is proves to be an inspiring look into the life of a humble man who, so grateful for what Jesus had done for him, dedicated his life to helping others down the same path."

We've all heard the story of Sydneysider Arthur Stace, aka "Mr Eternity", right? The alcoholic who had his life turned upside down in an encounter with God and then spent years roaming the streets of the harbourside city writing the word 'Eternity' on pavements in chalk in a prompt for people to consider where their life was headed? Well, turn's out that there's a bit more to it than that. Roy Williams' new book deftly fills in the gaps to bring us a full account of his extraordinary life.

Williams, who wrote the biography with the help of Elizabeth Meyers, starts his account with what is probably the peak moment of fame for Mr Stace and his work - New Year's Eve in 1999 when, just as the clock ticked over into the new millennium, the word 'Eternity' was illuminated on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, not only for the million or so who were watching the festivities around the harbour but for the many, many millions more who would see it via TV screens in Australia and around the world.

That one word aptly sums up the life of Arthur Stace but it's the 'why' with which Williams' book is largely concerned. He recounts how Stace was born in the Sydney suburb of Redfern in 1885 as the sixth child in a family that was on its way down the socio-economic ladder thanks, in large part, to his father's destructive alcoholism. He tells how seven years later, his mother Laura was deserted by her husband and, after being thrown out of their accommodation, gave up Arthur, along with other siblings, into foster care and how he would spend the remainder of his childhood and teenage years living with various families around country New South Wales.

Drink entered Stace's life soon after he started working at a coalmine at the age of 15 and soon became a problem. When at the age of almost 19 he was released from the care of the foster family system, Stace started a pattern of moving from, "job to job from town to town - always finding a new job - a new hotel - a new policeman - and a new jail!" When he finally returned to Sydney in 1905, Williams recounts how he gradually became subsumed into the city's underworld.

Stace, like so many of his generation, went to fight in Europe during World War I and while, after his return, Williams reports that he didn't resume his life as part of Sydney's underworld, he also states that it appeared "he did almost nothing at all except mooch about and drink". By the 1930s, he was a man living on the fringes of society, in trouble with the law and without purpose.

Then came the two pivotal moments that would shape the rest of Stace's life. The first was on 6th August, 1930, when he attended a men's gathering at St Barnabas' Church on Broadway in Sydney and there heard preacher RBS Hammond speak of a Jesus who would set men like him free from the lives they were living. Stace didn't respond at the meeting but apparently went to a nearby park and cried out to God for help. The result was instantaneous - "Arthur always insisted that from that night onward, he never touched a drop of alcohol", says Williams.

The other seminal moment in Arthur's life came just two years later - 14th November, 1932 - when he heard evangelist and war hero John Gotch Ridley preach at the Burton Street Baptist Tabernacle on the theme of eternity. It was immediately following that sermon that, in Stace's words, he "felt a powerful call from the Lord to write 'Eternity'."

"I had a piece of chalk in my pocket and, outside the church, I bent down right there and wrote it," Williams records him as saying. It was to be the first countless times that Stace would write the word on a pavement in perfect copperplate script as it became his regular practice to spend at least a couple of hours every day tramping Sydney's streets and writing the word where it could be seen (including on the inside of the GPO bell apparently).

And while Williams looks at the impact his act in writing the word 'Eternity' has had in helping people find Christ and on culture, he also paints a fuller picture of Stace as a Christian than just the man who wrote the word 'eternity'. We also learn that Stace, as well as being a regular at prayer meetings and church services, would also attend places like the Francis Street hostel for derelicts and alcoholics to minister to the men there and how, following his marriage to Pearl, the couple became renowned for their heart to serve others as part of the Burton Street church.

In his book, Williams also redresses a number of "misconceptions" that have sprung up around Stace's story over the years - including that he was illiterate (he wasn't). One of the strengths of the book, meanwhile, is that as well as Stace's story, Williams also recounts the stories of those with whom his life was intertwined, in particular those of the three men who were most influential in it - RBS Hammond, John G Ridley and Baptist preacher Lisle Thompson, the man who, in effect, took Arthur's remarkable story of redemption public.

An easily digestible, well paced and insightful book that is proves to be an inspiring look into the life of a humble man who, so grateful for what Jesus had done for him, dedicated his life to helping others down the same path. This book is a celebration of the life and legacy of someone we can all learn something from.

 To buy the book, follow this link (ebook) - Mr Eternity: The Story of Arthur Stace or this link (paperback) - Mr Eternity: The Story of Arthur Stace.