Mr Eternity: The Story of Arthur Stace
‘Eternity! Eternity! I wish I could sound, or shout, that word to everyone on the streets of Sydney. Eternity! Friends, you have got to meet it. Where will you spend Eternity?’ - Evangelist John Ridley, in his sermon on 14 November 1932 at the Burton Street City Tabernacle.
From what we can tell, it was with these very words that God took hold of the heart of Arthur Stace and implanted there the idea, the work of faith, that would captivate him for the rest of his earthly life. It is this event which lies at the heart of our book, and is the culmination of the building storyline of chapters 6-10.
These chapters follow the interweaving lives of three men - John Ridley, the Baptist preacher of that fateful sermon; R.B.S. Hammond, the minister of St Barnabas Broadway whose remarkable ministry saw the conversion of Stace in 1930 and his subsequent nurturing; and Arthur Stace himself. There are so many fascinating threads to these stories...the witness of Ridley on the frontlines of WWI is just one example. I want to get my hands on his letters! His words to his mother during the battle of the Somme are extraordinary:
I am right in the thick of it now, banging and booming all around, with shells flying overhead. Yes, I know now what the ‘Horrors of War’ are, and I know also what the ‘comfort of Christ’ is, and the great nearness of His presence in this awful inferno. (P69)
The words about him are almost as encouraging:
[His] influence for good was immense...I say of him most sincerely that he is one of the most perfect Christians I have ever met. A mere boy in years...he remained as pure and unsullied as when a schoolboy, inspired by patriotic enthusiasm and confidence in God...Brave as the bravest, cool and manly in action, Jack Ridley was beloved by officers and men. (P77)
But what I appreciate about the different threads in these chapters is how often they come back to the same theme - get out and talk about Jesus, get out and announce his news, get out and train others how to follow him. It’s as if Ridley and Hammond had that same rhythm ticking in their brains and tugging at their hearts. They couldn’t fight it. And they didn’t want to.
Hence Ridley began a prayer and bible study group within his battalion, despite being still only a new Christian, which grew to attract as many as 40-50 members.
Hence Hammond began his Men’s Meetings at St Barnabas on Wednesday nights, calling men from all walks of life to walk closely with Christ and backed up his ministry with an extraordinarily expansive and sacrificial array of social welfare programs to care for those in need.
Hence Ridley and his new wife Dorothy, hit the road in the 1920s in their ‘Gospel waggon’, going door-to-door, distributing tracts and holding open-air meetings around rural NSW to speak of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Hence for 15 years Hammond continued visiting, speaking to and caring for those in the ‘drunks’ yard’ at Central Police Court in Liverpool Street.
It was this God-given drive to tell and disciple that God used to for Arthur Stace’s conversion. Is it any wonder that it rubbed off on him? Arthur picked up that same God-given rhythm: ‘Get out and tell’, ‘Get out and tell’, ‘Get out and tell’. And it drove him to get up each morning for 35 years, choose a Sydney suburb and for 2-4 hours (!) ‘chalk where they walked’. Every few hundred feet he would write that one word, still ringing in his ears from that night at the baptist church on Burton Street - Eternity. The news about Jesus, that he can change your eternity, the eternity we will all face, it is that good, that captivating.
Meet Annabel Nixey Annabel was born and bred in Sydney, but now lives in Canberra. She loves teaching women from the Bible. Her favourite genres are: for movies - period dramas, for books - biographies and for coffee - tea.