Mr. Eternity: Alcoholic converted because Christians were UNLIKE him

Eternity, Arthur Stace

‘Well look at them and look at us. I’m having a go at what they have got.’

—Arthur Stace “Mr. Eternity”

Alcoholic Arthur Stace repented when he saw how Christians at St. Barnabas Church were NOT like him. The church’s Anglican rector, RBS Hammond, was a total prohibitionist, and Arthur was a drinker of methylated spirits.

Arthur then warned about ‘Eternity’ by writing this word in chalk and in crayon on Sydney’s sidewalks. He wrote it repeatedly for 37 years.

Think of the Arthurs of today

What do today’s Arthurs see in your church services? Will they still see a fair-dinkum Christ-like contrast?

Or else is your church becoming allured by trendy church-growth advice that pubs are a preferred venue for church services to “connect church with the culture”? Ministers are advised to have friendship-with-the-world (despite James 4:4) and even to have a beer in hand while “preaching.” So would they really preach Eternity? Would they preach fire and brimstone? How can a drinker ‘distinguish between the holy and the unholy’? (Leviticus 10:10)

The un-churched alcoholics of today see certain ministers allured to be double-minded compromisers, ‘blind leaders of the blind,’ who are less likely to repent than others! ‘Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.’ (Matthew 21:31)

‘There are many alcoholics looking for help. These people already believe that drinking is a sin. When they see Christians using alcohol it gives them a two fold message, first that these Christians are simply hypocrites who do not practice what they preach, and second that the Church has nothing in the way of moral and spiritual support to offer them in their hour of need. Are not their souls precious?’

Peter Lyne, Winter 1995, ‘Should Christians Drink Alcohol?’, Australian Wesleyan, p. 16.

Arthur Stace: drinking leads to methylated spirits

Arthur was born in 1884, in Balmain, just west of central Sydney. His mother and father, his two brothers and two sisters were alcoholics; his sisters, brothel operators, living in constant friction with the law. He grew up in poverty, looking after himself and stealing as needed. At twelve he was made a ward of the state, but received no great education. At fourteen he found his first job, in a coalmine, and at fifteen he was in jail for the first of many visits. Already he was well on the way to alcoholism himself.

In his twenties he lived in Surry Hills in Sydney’s inner south, running liquor between pubs and brothels, connected with gambling and housebreaking, until the start of World War One. He served in France, returning partially blinded in one eye, and suffering the effects of poison gas. From then until the middle of the Great Depression he slid further down into alcoholism, until he was drinking methylated spirits at sixpence a bottle, and living on handouts.

He knew that he couldn’t reinvent himself — not on his own — once, after yet another court appearance, he begged the Sergeant of Regent Street Police Station to lock him up to help him get dried out.

Nigel A. Chapman, Eternity in the heart of Sydney, Wesley Mission.

Evangelism by contrast: ‘Well look at them and look at us.’

On August 6th, 1930, he attended a meeting for men at “Barneys”, as St Barnabas’ Church on Broadway is generally known. Most were there, for the food, but there was a message first.

Noticing six tidily dressed people near the front (in marked contrast to the bulk of those attending), he asked the man sitting next to him, a well-known criminal: “Who are they?” “I’d reckon they’d be Christians”, he replied. Stace said: “Well look at them and look at us. I’m having a go at what they have got,” — and he slipped down on his knees and prayed.

…He found that he was subsequently able to give up drinking

Nigel A. Chapman, Eternity in the heart of Sydney, Wesley Mission.

Arthur kept writing: ‘Eternity.’ Unless you repent, where will you spend Eternity?

It was a few months later in the Burton Street Baptist Tabernacle at Darlinghurst he heard the evangelist, the Reverend John Ridley. Ridley told his audience that men and women everywhere must think about Eternity and where they will spend it. He shouted: ‘I wish I could shout ETERNITY through the streets of Sydney.’

Stace, recalling the day, said: ‘He repeated himself and kept shouting “ETERNITY, ETERNITY” and his words were ringing through my brain as I left the church. Suddenly I began crying and I felt a powerful call from the Lord to write “ETERNITY.”’

Anglican Church League, ‘Making your life count for eternity’.

The word Eternity … Arthur Stace wrote that word, in that elegant copperplate, in chalk and in crayon, for thirty-seven years, on the sidewalks of Sydney — over half a million times. No one knew [for many years] who he was, and he preferred it that way.

Arthur Stace often preached on the streets, and he would rise early in the morning to write Eternity on the streets of Sydney.

Nigel A. Chapman, Eternity in the heart of Sydney, Wesley Mission.

Jesus said, ‘if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins’ (John 8:24) and ‘…those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.’ (John 5:29)

The prohibitionist Anglican minister at St. Barnabas Church

The [St. Barnabas] notice-board fronting Broadway became famous for the weekly ‘sermon-in-a-sentence’: ‘Drink promises you heaven, but gives you hell!’.

One of the best-known Australian churchmen of his day, Hammond regarded himself primarily as an evangelist, and his zeal, commanding presence, compelling oratory and gift of repartee led many to Christian commitment. His concern for the ‘whole man’ and his knowledge of life in the slums convinced him that spiritual welfare was intimately related to general well-being. Appalled by problems associated with alcohol, he became an advocate of total prohibition and a leader of the temperance movement, revelling in the nickname of ‘the Wowser’.

Joan Mansfield, 1983, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 9, pp. 179-180, ‘Hammond, Robert Brodribb Stewart’, Melbourne University Press.

When the Rector of St. Barnabas’, Canon RBS Hammond, died in 1946, Stace was one of five people who were invited to speak at his funeral. That was still nine years before it became public that he was “Mr. Eternity.”

Anglican Church League, ‘Making your life count for eternity’.

The term “wowser” came in for some comment by the Rev. R. B. S. Hammond at his meeting in His Majesty’s Theatre on Friday evening (wires our Auckland correspondent). If the term simply meant a person who was keen on social reform, prohibition especially, he said, he was delighted to be called a “wowser”.

The other day he had heard a couple of young men use filthy language, and they were not “wowsers”. He had seen a woman whose husband had beaten her and blackened her eye, and the husband was not a “wowser”. He found no shame in the title. But he would feel much ashamed if anyone called him a “waster”.

Otago Daily Times, 9 Oct. 1911, No words wasted to define “wowser”.

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