“Whose Heart The Lord Opened”
In Acts 16:14 Luke records:
“A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”
This language is sometimes understood to support the Calvinistic doctrine of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit. It is affirmed that man, because he is born totally depraved, cannot believe the gospel, or do any other good thing, until God directly intervenes to change his heart. This action is believed to be something altogether separate from the effect wrought by the word of God.
Let’s carefully examine all that is said about Lydia’s conversion and see if it is, in fact, an instance of such a direct operation of the Spirit upon a sinner’s heart.
Note carefully the sequence of events (including verse 13) :
1. we spake to the women
2. Lydia was hearing
3. the Lord opened her heart
4. she attended to the things spoken
There can be no question that Luke tells us that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart. The vital question is: By what means did He do so? It will help our understanding to look at the word translated “attended” in the King James Version. It is the Greek word PROSECHO. Other translations render it as:
NKJV: “to heed the things spoken by Paul”
NASB: “to respond to the things spoken by Paul”
ESV: “to pay attention to what was said by Paul”
NIV: “to respond to Paul’s message”
Luke did not say that Lydia’s heart was opened, so that she would hear Paul’s teaching, but rather that after hearing Paul’s message, her heart was opened to respond to what she had learned. Consider brother J. W. McGarvey’s comments on this verse:
“We are likely to jump to the conclusion that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart by a direct operation of his Spirit, and thus to ignore a very different method clearly indicated by the context. We must inquire what led Luke to make a remark in regard to Lydia, which he has not made in regard to any other person whose conversion he has described. It cannot be because God did for Lydia something which he omitted in other cases. The difference is only in the phraseology employed. Luke, together with Paul and all his company, had been very much puzzled for weeks past, as to what God was doing and intending to do, by turning them away from fields of labor which appeared to them the most promising, and leading them to this heathen city. In the very midst of their perplexity they unexpectedly met with these women; and though they had never met them before, and though they might have expected, under the circumstances, a long and ardent struggle to overcome their natural repugnance to a crucified Messiah, they are surprised to find Lydia’s heart immediately opened, and they see at once what the Lord has done and has been doing since they were first forbidden to go into Asia. The Lord opened Lydia’s heart, as he did that of the eunuch, by bringing from afar, at the proper juncture, the living preacher through whose word the end was accomplished.”
I believe brother McGarvey is exactly correct. The Lord opened Lydia’s heart in the same way he opens the heart of any other person who will listen to the gospel and allow it to do its saving work.
The scriptures tell us that the God’s power unto salvation is the gospel (Romans 1:16); that we are begotten by the word of truth (James 1:18); that we are born again by the incorruptible seed, the word of God (1 Peter 1:23); and that the implanted word is able to save our souls (James 1:21).
Luke’s language should be understood as expressing what is taught throughout the New Testament, namely that the method or means God uses to open hearts is the saving message of the gospel.
- Leonard White