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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Eutychus

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THIS Eutychus is the father of all such as fall asleep under sermons. And he well deserves all his fame, for he fell sound asleep under an action sermon of the Apostle Paul. We do not know how much there may have been to be said in exculpation or extenuation of Eutychus and his deep sleep during that sacrament service. Eutychus may have suppered his horses four-and-twenty hours before, and given a boy a shilling to look after them till his return home from the Communion Table at Troas. Like an old friend of mine who used to do that, and then to travel all night from Glenisla to Dundee in order to be present at Mr. M'Cheyne's Communion. After which he walked home and took his horses out to the plough in good time on Monday morning. Only, I feel quite sure that Mr. M'Cheyne never needed to go down and raise my old friend to life again, as Paul had to do to the dead Eutychus. For he never fell asleep, I feel quite sure, neither under Mr. M'Cheyne's action sermon, nor during the three afternoon tables, no, nor under the evening sermon of Daniel Cormick of Kirriemuir, who used to preach not short sermons on such occasions, but never one word too long for St. Peter's, Dundee, in those pre-disruption days.

The sacred writer does not in as many words take it upon himself to blame the Apostle for his long sermon that night. Though what he does say so emphatically and so repeatedly would be unpardonable blame to any other preacher. What blame, indeed, could be more unpardonable to any of your preachers than what the Apostle was guilty of that night? The like of it has never been seen again since that night. To keep his hearers from the time of lighting the candles till the sun rose next morning! Matthew Henry would like to have had the heads of Paul's sermon that night. But my idea is that Paul's sermon had no heads that night. My idea is that as soon as the candles were lighted Paul recited his warrant for the celebration of the Lord's Supper, as we now read that warrant from his pen in First Corinthians. After which he would enter on the nature and the ends of the Supper, which would take some time to explain and exhaust. He would then diverge to tell the Troas people the never-ending story of how he came to be a catechumen and a communicant himself at first. He would then go on to the mystical union that subsists between Jesus Christ and all true communicants, during the deep things of which Eutychus would fall fast asleep. I know nothing so like that richest part of Paul's sermon as our own Robert Bruce's not short Sermons on the Sacrament, which Dr. Laidlaw has put into such good English, and Mr. Ferrier into such good buckram, for us the other day. And then, even after the accident to Eutychus, Paul was still so full of matter and of spirit, that he actually went on with his post-communion address till the sun rose on the cups still standing on the table, and on the elders standing beside them, and Paul still pouring out his heart from the pulpit.

Now, notwithstanding Paul's example, all our preachers should, as a rule, be short in their sermons. In Luther's excellent portrait of a good preacher, one of such a preacher's nine virtues and qualities is this, that he should know when to stop. So he should. Only, you have no idea how fast the pulpit clock goes when a preacher has anything still on his mind that he wishes to say. At the same time, every sermon is not to be cut according to the sand-glass. John Howe first attracted Cromwell by preaching for two hours and then turning the sand-glass for a third hour. And Coleridge in his notes on Dr. Donne, and on an hour and a half sermon of his preached at Whitehall, says: "Compare this manhood of our Church divinity with our poor day. When I reflect on the crowded congregations, and on the thousands who with intense interest came to those hour and two-hour sermons, I cannot believe in any true progression, moral or intellectual, in the minds of the many." And since I have Coleridge open at any rate, I must not deny you what Hazlitt says about Coleridge's own preaching: "It was in January, 1798, that I rose one morning before daylight, to walk ten miles in the mud, to hear this celebrated person preach. When I got there, the organ was playing the hundredth Psalm, and when it was done Mr. Coleridge rose and gave out his text. And his text was this: "He departed again into a mountain Himself alone." As the preacher gave out his text his voice rose like a stream of distilled perfumes; and when he came to the last two words of the text, which he pronounced loud, deep, and distinct, it seemed to me, who was then young, as if the sounds had echoed from the depths of the human heart. The preacher then launched into his subject like an eagle dallying with the wind. For myself, I could not have been more delighted if I had heard the music of the spheres. Poetry and philosophy had met together, truth and genius had embraced each other, and that under the sanction of religion." Now, a preacher like Coleridge, and a hearer like Hazlitt, are not to be cut short by all the sand-glasses and pulpit-clocks in the world. Sand-glasses and pulpit-clocks are made for such preachers and hearers, and not such preachers and hearers for sand-glasses and pulpit-clocks.

But another thing. Paul did not have his manuscript before him that night, and that circumstance was partly to blame for the too-great length of his sermon. I will be bold to take an illustration of that night in Troas from myself. When I am in Paul's circumstances; that is to say, when I have only once the opportunity to preach in any place, I never, on such an occasion read my sermon from a paper. I just give out the Scripture text that I am myself living upon at that time, and then I speak out of such a heart as is given to me at that moment. But the danger of such preaching is just that which Luther has pointed out-I never know when to stop. Just as Paul did not know when to stop that night. And just as Luther himself, not seldom exceeded all bounds. Without a paper, not one preacher in a hundred knows when to stop. He forgets to look at the clock till it is far too late. With a paper, and with nothing more to say than is down on the paper, you stop at the moment. But not restricted to a paper, and with your mind full of matter, and your heart full of feeling, you go on till midnight. At home you hearers know what your minister is going to say, and you are able to settle yourselves down to sleep as soon as he gives out his text. But he has much more honour when he goes outside of his own congregation. And thus it is that you hear of how he preached so long, and was so much enjoyed, when away from home. That was Paul's exact case. If this was not his first and his only sermon at Troas, it was certainly his last. The Apostle would never see those Troas people again till the day of judgment; and who shall blame him if he completely forgot the sand-glass, and poured out his heart all night upon that entranced congregation, At the same time, and after all is said, Luther is quite right. A good preacher should know when to stop. In other words, as a rule, and especially at home, he should be short.

But, then, there are two sides to all that also. And your side is this. I never see any of you fall asleep at an election time. No, not though the speaking goes on till midnight. And, yet, I do not know that the oratory of the political candidates and their friends is so much better than the oratory of the pulpit. But this is it. Your own passions are all on fire in politics, whereas you are all so many Laodiceans in religion. Yea, what carefulness your politics work in you; yea, what clearing of yourselves; yea, what indignation; yea, what fear; yea, what vehement desire; yea, what zeal; yea, what revenge. So much so, that the poorest speaker on the party-platform will have no difficulty in keeping your blood up all night to the boiling point. At the same time, I frankly admit, few preachers preach with the passion, and with the issues at stake, that the politicians, or even the playactors, speak. And thus, on the whole, the sum of the matter is this-that, what between too long sermons, and too cold, the blame lies largely at every preacher's door.

And, then, even more than our sermons, our prayers should be short; our public prayers, that is. You may be as long as you like in secret, but not in public, not in the family, not in the prayer-meeting, and not in the pulpit. Bishop Andrewes, the best composer of prayers in all the world of prayers, is not short. His prayer for the first day of the week occupies fifteen pages. His prayer for the second day of the week covers eight pages. His three prayers on awaking take up six pages. His Horology five pages. His four Acts of Deprecation eleven pages, and so on. But then these not short prayers are printed in his Private Devotions, which his trustees could scarcely read, so kneaded into a pulp were they with Andrewes's sweat and tears. And no wonder, if you knew his history. William Law, on the other hand, was short and exact in his private devotions. But, then, to make up for that, he was so incomparably methodical, so regular, so punctual, and so concentrated, in the matter of his prayers. He was like James Durham, of whom William Guthrie said that no man in all Scotland prayed so short in public as Durham did; but, then, "every word of Durham's would have filled a firlot." Look at Paul's short prayers also. Every word would fill a firlot. And so the hundred and nineteenth Psalm. Every single verse of that psalm is a separate prayer which might have been written by the laird of Pourie Castle. At any rate, we are saying that every night in our family worship at home at present. We take a different kind of Scripture in the morning when all the children are with us. But at night we just take one verse of that Old Testament James Durham, and every heart in the house is straightway filled like a firlot before God. The Lord's Prayer is short also, because it is not His prayer at all, but is composed for us and for our children. But His private devotions were not only far longer than Bishop Andrewes's, but are far more illegible to us with His tears and His blood.

And, then, if you ever rise to be an author, make your books short. You may be a great author and yet your books may all the time be very short among books. The Song is a short book. So is the Psalms. So is the Gospel of John. So is the Epistle to the Romans. So is the Confessions. So is the Divine Comedy. So is the Imitation. So is the Pilgrim's Progress, and so is the Grace Abounding. Brother Lawrence On the Practice of the Presence of God is so short that it will cost you only fourpence. I had occasion a moment ago to mention William Guthrie. Said John Owen, drawing a little gilt copy of Guthrie's Saving Interest out of his pocket, "That author I take to be one of the greatest divines that ever wrote. His book is my vade mecum. I carry it always with me. I have written several folios, but there is more divinity in this little book than in them all." "I am finishing Guthrie," said Chalmers, "which I think is the best book I ever read." And I myself read the whole of Guthrie in Melrose's beautiful new edition the other day between Edinburgh and London. All the greatest authors have been like Guthrie, and like Luther's best preachers, they have known when to stop. Let all young men who would be great authors, study and imitate all the short books I have just signalised. And though it is not a short book, and could not be, let them all read Professor Saintsbury's new book, out of which I borrow this last advice: "Phrynichus is redundant and garrulous; for when it was open to him to have got the matter completely finished off in not a fifth part of his actual length, by saying things out of season, he has stretched his matter out to an unmanageable bulk."

Now, after all that about preaching, and about prayer, and about great authorship, Eutychus did not fall out of the window for nothing, if we learn from his fall some of these valuable lessons.


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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Eutychus'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wbc/e/eutychus.html. 1901.

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