The Heart Opened
"Whose heart the Lord opened." Acts 16:14
Such is conversion! Multitudes it is to be feared remain in an unrenewed state from not knowing what real conversion is. Mistaking its nature they come short of its experience, and so perish in their sins. They are not aware that an error on this vital point that, substituting false conversion for true- will prove as fatal to the soul as poison, taken through ignorance, will to the body. Of what infinite moment is it, then, that we clearly understand what it is to be converted. For this purpose I have selected as an illustration, and for your serious study, a case in point. It is that of Lydia, "whose heart the Lord opened." But little is known of her history; but that little involves all of importance that we need know- that she was truly converted to Christ.
It is comparatively of little moment whether in this life we have a history or not, if we possess but an assured hope of an interest in the happiness of the life that is to come. We may be little and unknown, until divine grace draws us forth from our obscurity and numbers us among the children of God, the disciples of Jesus, the precious jewels which the Lord will own as His in the day that He makes them up. It is conversion alone that truly immortalizes us. The rank, the learning, the wealth, the honors of this life disappear, and the very names and memories of those who possessed them may perish; but, the righteous are had in everlasting remembrance, while, as we are told, "the name of the wicked shall rot."
Thus did divine grace attach a history and interest to the name and character of Lydia, which will fill all future time with their instruction and fragrance, and eternity with their praise. She being dead yet speaks by her genuine conversion and holy life, to all whose hearts the same Lord, who is rich in mercy unto all that call upon Him, may, in like manner, open. Lift up your silent prayer for the teaching and blessing of the Holy Spirit while we consider the case of Lydia, as illustrating the heart spiritually closed- the heart divinely opened- and the evidences of the great and blessed change.
And, in the first place, let us view the heart as in its natural state- spiritually closed. Such was Lydia's before the Lord opened it; and such, in truth, is ours. When Adam fell from the righteousness in which he was created, the whole race he represented fell in him. God was ejected from the heart as from a holy, beautiful temple, and the door was instantly closed. We are born, therefore; with hearts shut against God- hearts which enclose all that is morally evil, and which shut out all that is spiritually good. Born with a heart at enmity against God! Ponder that awful fact, my reader! It is the most appalling truth in the history of man. May the Holy Spirit aid and bless us while we state a few of those barriers which close the heart against Jesus; in other words- what are some of the powerful impediments to the conversion of the soul to God.
First and foremost is sin. It was the fearful shock of sin which at the first closed the heart against God, and it is the unsubdued power of sin which keeps it closed. There is not in this wide universe a thing so evil, so desperately evil, as the heart of man. All the evil, all the crime, all the suffering which rolls its dark flood through the world has its rise in the human heart! Listen to what God says of our heart, by the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah- "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" There are many deceitful things in the world- the sea is deceitful, the wind is deceitful, Satan is deceitful, man is deceitful; but the subtlety, the deceitfulness of the unrenewed heart exceeds them all- it is "deceitful above ALL things."
And there are many wicked things in the world- wicked men, wicked works, wicked ways; but the natural heart is "DESPERATELY wicked." Can language be stronger? But, if it be possible, the testimony of Christ even exceeds this dark description. Listen to His words- "For from within, out of a person's heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God."
Appalling picture! Such is your heart and mine by nature, and such it remains until grace renews and sanctifies it. Is it any marvel, then, that while these sinful principles, these germs of all evil remain unsubdued, unsanctified, the heart should be closed and barred to all that is holy and good? Lord! dethrone the tyrant sin from my heart, and set up Your kingdom of grace within my soul! Then shall "grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life."
Unbelief is another barrier of the heart. We have no natural faith in Christ. Faith is a divine, supernatural principle- a plant of the heavenly paradise. We may believe historically in Jesus, and yield the assent of our judgment to the truth of His Gospel, without one grain of the "faith of God's elect,"- the faith that purifies the heart and saves the soul. Do not, therefore, suppose that, because you are not an atheist, denying God- an infidel, rejecting the Bible, a scorner, neglecting the Sabbath and the sanctuary, you are, therefore, a true believer in the Lord Jesus. Do we not read that, "the devils believe and tremble"? What, then, is your faith more than theirs if it has not brought you as a lost sinner to the Savior? If it has not divested you of your own meritoriousness, and clothed you with the righteousness of Jesus which alone justifies the soul with God? Yes, the great barrier to your conversion is unbelief. This, as an iron bar, closes and fastens your heart against a loving, appealing Savior. You do not believe in the Lord Jesus with your heart, and without this you cannot be saved, but must perish eternally. Who can break down this iron bar of unbelief but God Himself?
The absence of love to God is a powerful barrier of the human heart. "The carnal mind is ENMITY against God." It opens, like the morning flower, to a creature affection; it closes, like that flower at evening, to a divine. It expands gladly to receive the costly gift, but it shuts in sullen hostility to the gracious and generous Giver. And yet, what says the commandment? "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." Have you made the slightest approach towards obedience to this Divine law? Is there one spark of love in your heart to God? -one pulse of affection in your soul to Christ? Oh what a strong bolt of the heart to the entrance of Jesus is its natural and unmitigated enmity! its love of sin, its hatred of God; its adoration of self, and its rejection of Christ. Lord I supplant my enmity with love!
The world, too, has immense power in closing the heart to the converting grace of God. The world in the heart corresponds in its nature, and spirit; and power with the world without. In some one or more of its many forms- its covetousness, or its pleasures, or its honors, or its friendships, or even its false religion- the world maintains its hold and supremacy, and bars the heart to the influence and power of godliness. Oh what a mighty opposition in the unrenewed has the grace of God to overcome when it brings its divine and irresistible force to bear upon the love and power of the world enthroned upon the human heart!
Such are some of the impediments to conversion; such a few of the barriers by which the natural heart is closed against God and against His Son Jesus Christ. My reader, are they yours? The momentous question now arises- Can these impediments ever be removed? Can these barriers be thrown down, and the door of the heart be opened to admit and welcome the Savior?
All praise to our God, I answer, Yes! For we read of one, "whose heart the Lord opened." And now, we inquire, How did the Lord open Lydia's heart? First, her heart was opened to hear the Word of the Lord. In the language of Bunyan, the "ear-gate" was first assailed. "Faith comes by HEARING." There are many individuals who refuse even outwardly to listen to the message, God sends to them. Like the deaf adder, sinners stop their ears to the voice of the charmer, charm he ever so wisely, lest they should hear with their ears and be converted and be saved.
But the Lord also opened her spiritual ear- the ear of the soul. How strikingly was this illustrated by Jesus when He spoke the word, "Ephatha, be opened!" and straightway the ears of the deaf man were opened. The spiritual ear is unstopped to hear the voice of Jesus. The sweetest music to which mortal ever listened now chimes upon the soul. How entrancing its tone! How ravishing its sound! It speaks of pardoning love, of saving grace; of peace with God through Christ; and of Christ's willingness and ability to save to the uttermost the chief of sinners. It is the voice of free grace, proclaiming the full forgiveness of sin and the complete justification of the soul, on the ground of God's free and unpurchased mercy- that, "whosoever will let him drink of the water of life freely." Lord! open the ear of my soul to hear this joyful sound, of a finished, full, and free salvation! "Say unto my soul, I am your salvation."
Lydia's heart was opened by true contrition for sin. Impenitence, doubtless, had long rendered her heart cold and callous. She was ignorant of the deep-seated depravity that dwelt there, and knew not how great an evil was sin in the sight of the holy Lord God. But now the Lord had touched her heart, and lo! its icy fetters were dissolved, its rocky hardness was softened, the fount of sensibility was unsealed, and streams of holy penitence, of godly sorrow for sin, flowed at the Savior's feet.
Is there, my reader, a spectacle that inspires an angel's joy? Is there a temple on earth in which the High and the Holy One delights to dwell? Is there a sacrifice brought to the altar of God and laid down upon that One Sacrifice Jesus has offered, more fragrant, costly, and acceptable to Him than any other that man can offer? It is a broken and a contrite heart! Listen to the declaration of God: "To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembles at My word."
My reader, has your heart been so uncovered as to reveal to you its plague? Have you so seen and felt its deep depravity, its hidden corruption, its enmity to God, and its rejection of Christ, as to force from you the anxious cry- "God be merciful to me a sinner!" Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out. And for your encouragement let me remind you of the marvellous and most precious truth- "Him has God exalted at His right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins."
The Lord opened Lydia's heart to love. Hitherto she had loved sin, and the world, and herself. Her affections were concentrated upon any and every false object rather than upon the right and lawful one. But now new springs of feeling were unlocked in her heart. She loved the Lord Jesus. Never had she truly loved until now. Her affections- hitherto carnal, earthly, selfish- had now found a new Object, and now flowed in a new channel, unsealing to her a fount of joy, and gladness, and bliss, which filled to its utmost capacity her whole soul.
But what marvellous key had thus opened her heart? It was the love that Jesus bore her. This key can unlock the wards of your heart, my reader, and open every chamber to a new-born affection. Hitherto sin may have closed it- guilt may have hardened it- worldliness and indifference may have rendered it cold and callous; it has repelled the exhortations of the minister, the pleadings of a father, the tears of a mother, the warnings of solemn and startling judgments; but now one beam of God's love, one touch of Christ's hand, one word spoken by the Spirit, and your heart flies open, expands, and dissolves into a new-born and holy affection for that Savior, who has so long been knocking for admittance until His locks are wet with the dew of the morning.
Let us draw a few practical and solemn conclusions from this important subject.
I. We learn that conversion is the work of God. "Whose heart THE LORD opened." Regeneration, or the new birth, is not of ourselves, nor of others, but of God. "Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Again, we are told, It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing." Thus the great transformation, through which we must pass before we can enter heaven, is not a human, but a Divine work; not a natural, but a supernatural change. No heart voluntarily and spontaneously opens to admit the Savior to its love. We possess no self-power to accomplish this.
Try the experiment, my reader. Say to your heart- "Submit to the supremacy of truth! Bow to the scepter of Christ! Open to the love of God! Idols of my soul, be gone! And yield the throne to Jesus!" In vain you cry: there is no response! All is locked in the profound slumber of spiritual death. As well might you repair to the picturesque cemetery, and bid the sleeping dead listen to the soft tones of the harp breathing over their graves, as to wake your own heart to the voice of Jesus!
What said Christ?- "No man can come unto me, unless the Father who has sent me draw him." What an evidence of the deep depravity of your nature, and of the power of sin, and of the utter alienation of your heart from God! -all of which fearfully enhances your responsibility while living, and will terribly augment your condemnation if finally lost. Place no reliance, then, upon pious parentage, religious education, or Christian rites and rituals; but ask the Lord to open your heart by His grace. Commune with your own heart on this vital matter, examine yourself, prove your own self by the Word of God, and ascertain whether you are quickened by the Spirit, are born of God, and have passed from death unto life; whether, in a word, the Lord has opened your heart to attend to the things which make for your everlasting peace.
Lydia gave scriptural evidence of the reality of her conversion to God, by a public profession of her faith in, and her love to, the Lord Jesus Christ. We read that "she was baptized." This was her loving act of obedience to Christ and her public union with the Church. Christ's command is, "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved." And we read of the early Christians- "And many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized. They that gladly received His word were baptized." "They were baptized, both men and women." And when Jesus was baptized of John in Jordan, He said, speaking of Himself in mystical union with His disciples- "Thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness."
Such was the command and the pattern of Christ, and such the prompt and loving obedience of His disciples. If we love Him, so let us obey His commands, imitate His example, and walk in the footsteps of the flock. Thus shall we emblecise our mystical union with Christ, both in His death and resurrection.
"Know you not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Thus publicly to confess Christ before the world, is but our reasonable service after the great things He has done for us. His solemn words are- "Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father who is in heaven." It is both our duty and privilege to "join ourselves to the disciples," as did the early Christians. No true disciple of Christ would wish to go to heaven in disguise. He desires to wear the badge of Christian discipleship, to acknowledge his Lord and own his Captain. We must not be disciples of Jesus secretly- through fear, or cowardice, or compromise.
We must witness a good profession before many witnesses, be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, everywhere, and on all suitable occasions, testifying to the power of divine grace, increasing the praise of Jesus, and promoting the glory of God. Nor are we to be alone in this solemn dedication to God. We read of Lydia that "she was baptized, and her household." Her motto henceforth was, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." We are told but little of her household. It is, however, I think, clear, from the last verse of the chapter from which our text is selected, that they were believers. "And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia : and when they had seen the BRETHREN they comforted them and departed."
These, doubtless, were brethren in the Lord. But, whether this be so or not, what pious parent, himself a consecrated servant of the Lord Jesus, desires and prays not that his children should also believe and be saved? If, for the most part, they are of tender years, they have the especial invitation of Jesus, "allow the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Early piety, or the conversion of children is, I fear, too much overlooked by many Christians and ministers.
Especially should it be the aim of the ministry of home. That ministry is especially designed to compass, as the object of its holy and saving influence, the domestic household, that they all may become, through grace, members of "the household of faith," -training here for the Lord's service, and hereafter for the enjoyment of God forever. Oh what greater happiness can thrill a Christian parent's heart than to see his children walking in the truth, their hearts early expanding to the power of the Savior's love?
We can offer them no protection, can ensure them no safeguard like early piety. Religion- heartfelt, experimental religion- is their only real safety. To be brought to Christ, by Him to be received, and then to grow up as plants in the courts of the Lord, enriching the world with the fruit, and filling the Church with the blossom and fragrance of their early and growing piety, oh, this is a certain and hallowed result of the believing prayers and earnest ministry of home! For this let every Christian parent send up to heaven the prayer of faith. For this let him believingly hope and patiently wait; and though you go forth watering with tears the precious seed you sow, yet shall you return with joy, binding the golden sheaves to your grateful, praiseful bosom!
Dear little child! listening to this page with an attentive ear, with a thoughtful mind, and with a throbbing heart, you wonder if there is a message from God to you. You bend your ear to catch a sentence or a word in which you are personally interested. I have a message from God to you, dear child! It is this- "I love those who love Me; and those that seek He early shall find Me." What a precious message is this! -it is a message of God's love to little children. "I love them," says the Lord.
And did not the Savior, when He was on earth, exhibit this love when He invited little children to come to Him; when He rebuked the disciples for keeping them back; and when He placed a little child in their midst, and bade them imitate it, and then put His hands upon them and blest them- thus fulfilling the beautiful prophecy concerning Himself- "He shall gather the lambs with His arms, and carry them in His bosom." Dear child, come to this Savior! You are not too young to know and love Him- you are not too young to feel the joy of being saved, as you are not too young to die. Samuel was called of the Lord while yet young. He was given to his mother, in answer to prayer, therefore he was called Samuel, which means, "Asked of God."
In early life he was, like Jesus, found in the temple, and there the Lord called him, and he answered, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." You too, my dear child, may hear the call of God, may respond to the invitation of Jesus. Oh that He may effectually call you by His Spirit now, and that your little, loving heart may exclaim- "Speak, Lord, for your servant hears."
Oh seek the Lord early: remember your Creator in the days of your youth. Say unto God- "My Father, be the Guide of my youth." Jesus invites you to come to the protection of His arms, to the pavilion of His heart. He asks you to flee to Him as your Savior and to make Him your Friend. He will not despise your weak faith, your feeble love, your little knowledge. He will not refuse to save you, because though young in years you may be old in sin. His precious blood can wash you purer than the lily; yes, whiter than the snow. Go in prayer, and ask Christ to give you His holy Spirit, and beseech God to adopt you into His family and make you His child.
Then O how holy and happy, useful and safe will all your future life be! As you advance in years- like the holy child, Jesus- you will "increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." And when you die, Jesus will take you to dwell with Himself forever. Christian parents! seek this for your children- seek it prayerfully, seek it earnestly, seek it perseveringly, for God will be inquired of to do it.
Gracious Lord, our children see!
By Your mercy we are free
But shall these, alas! remain
Subjects still of Satan's reign?
Israel's young ones, when of old
Pharaoh threatened to withhold;
Then Your messenger said, "No
Let the children also go.
When the angel of the Lord,
Drawing forth his dreadful sword,
Slew, with an avenging hand,
All the first-born of the land;
Then Your people's doors he passed,
Where the bloody sign, was placed
Hear us now, upon our knees,
Plead the blood of Christ for these.
Lord, we tremble- for we know
How the fierce, malicious foe,
Wheeling round his watchful flight,
Keeps them ever in his sight.
Spread Your pinions, King of kings,
Hide them safe beneath Your wings;
Lest the ravenous bird of prey
Stoop, and bear the brood away.