The Conversion Of Lydia

Adapted From A Sermon By

George Burder

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. Act 16:14 ESV

The sixteenth verse of the Chapter we have just read tells us that:

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.

This morning we will consider the wonderful conversion of this believer.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a blessing, the value of which can never be fully expressed. Blessed, truly blessed, is the people who are privileged to hear it! Those who know it best will praise it most; prize it above gold and silver; even above their necessary food. Those also, who are appointed to preach it, will rejoice in every opportunity of publishing the good news to their fellow-men. And so did the first preachers of it; So did Paul and Silas, in the case before us this morning.

In the course of their travels, they were specifically directed to Macedonia; they were fully assured that the Lord had called them to preach the Gospel in that country. They obeyed the heavenly calling, and came to Philippi, the main city of that district. The text relates the first fruits of their labours there. For some time, in fact, no opportunity seemed to arise for the start of their work. They “remained in that city some days,” (16:12) praying, no doubt, and patiently waiting for the leadings of Divine Providence.

Eventually, on the Sabbath day, they walked to a place near the city, on the banks of a river, where the few Jews, or other devout persons, who lived at Philippi, were used to meet for social prayer. They lived among heathens, who did not know Jehovah, and who paid no regard to the Sabbath ; but these persons, who knew and worshipped the true God, used to resort to this isolated place, that they might offer up their joint prayers, and encourage each other to persevere in the religion of their pious ancestors.

Probably they were too few, or too poor, to be able to support a synagogue, as in many other places; but what they could do, they did: and it is highly commendable for all persons, when at a distance from their regular places of worship, to maintain, as well as they can, the worship of their God, and the profession of their religion, even among heathens.

In this place, the ministers of Christ found a few pious women. We read of no men there. Perhaps these were on business trips in the country: or, their hearts were grown cold about the service of Jehovah, preferring the love of gain to the love of God. However, to these women the apostle Paul addressed himself, declaring the great truths of the Gospel, having to do with the salvation of sinners by Jesus Christ.

Let us, like him, seize every proper opportunity of spreading the knowledge of a Savior. The truth of the Gospel is infinitely important to all mankind. Ministers are to preach it wherever they can. Pious people should talk about it on all convenient occasions, invite their neighbours to hear it, and put religious tracts into their hands. Who can tell how happy the effects of such efforts may prove!

We are not told what things they were which Paul spoke to these women; but as it was his intent elsewhere, so no doubt here also, to know nothing among the people but Christ, and him crucified. We are told explicitly in verse 10 of this chapter that it was “the Gospel” which he was “called to preach” in this country; and no doubt it was the Gospel he did preach to the women—the good news of salvation by Jesus Christ. And afterwards, in verse 17 when the apostle Paul and his companion were better known in Philippi, this was the report of their character—“These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” This is indeed the first and main duty of a minister of Christ; and may the ministers of Christ never forget it is so!

We are also informed in Chapter 16 that they spoke to the jailer and his family “the word of the Lord,” (16:32) directing them to believe in Jesus Christ, that they might be saved. These are “the things of Christ,” “the things of the Spirit,” “the things which belong to our peace,” the things which the faithful servants of Christ are bound to publish, and which they who are ordained to eternal life are enabled to hear and to believe.

We may observe, that it is very pleasant to speak of spiritual things to devout persons, such as Lydia was. There are people of the baser sort, “who speak evil of the things they do not know:” and who are so stubborn as to refuse a patient hearing to the most interesting truths; but Lydia and her friends were worshippers of God; and being gathered together for prayer, they were ready to listen to what the apostle had to offer. We do not say, with the Roman Catholics, that such a disposition “deserves grace:” that is a contradiction in terms, for grace is kindness undeserved.

To grace, we must ascribe this very disposition ; for, in general, persons turn their backs on all religious instruction; and sometimes manifest the evil in their hearts by abusing the messengers of God, and the friends of their souls. To the special grace of God it is also ascribed, that Lydia did pay attention to, and receive the Gospel; so that it is not to be referred to her good disposition, naturally; but to the mercy and special influence of heaven; “the Lord opened her heart.”

It is an excellent thing to have a teachable mind. Whoever possesses it may be thankful, and expect a blessing from all the means of grace. Our Savior himself says, (John 7. 17.) “If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God,” or not: as if he had said-- “Whoever will lay aside his prejudices, and make serious and impartial inquiries into the will of God, by hearing, reading, and meditation, with a sincere desire to learn and practise it, he will be sure to find enough in the Gospel to validate it; and will feel such good effects of it in his own heart, by the influence of the Holy Spirit, as will force him to come to the conclusion, with complete satisfaction, that it is of God and not of men.” It is a happy thing when people read and hear the doctrines of the Gospel in this way: They will have the blessing that Lydia obtained.

Considering these words more closely we will observe, that,

1. There is, in general, an awful, an irrational and sad aversion from the things of God.

The affairs of this world, its profits and its pleasures, engage the ear and possess the heart. They are pursued with avidity; they are constant subjects of inquiry, of conversation, and of delight. But how are the great doctrines, privileges, and duties of the Gospel viewed? How are the interesting concerns of the immortal soul and the eternal world attended to?

The Gospel reveals to us the most wonderful, the most interesting, the most awful, and the most delightful things. But how are they received? Just as they were in our Savior’s days. Of this generation we may say, as he did of that “It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”” The most charming and moving subjects of the Gospel excite no joy; the most dreadful warnings of the word cause no alarm; mankind are moved by neither; they equally disregard both. Let us look a little further into the unhappy causes of this fatal inattention to divine things.

Sadly! for some persons, they are altogether become debased in sin; for vice, where it has long reigned, brutalizes the soul, and leaves the man scarcely rational. Some are so deplorably immersed in sensuality, that it is almost impossible to gain their attention for a single moment to any thing serious and religious. The mention of any sacred truth excites only a derisive smile, and they treat with contempt the most heavenly and holy matters. It is especially the case with those, who have accustomed themselves to foolish talking and joking, and whose imagination is so defiled and debauched, that the most solemn and sacred things are turned into folly and laughter. This is a very sad state of mind, and which young people should be careful, before it is too late, to avoid. Such persons are indeed “worldly people, devoid of the Spirit,” (Jude 1:19) and to them the wisdom of God itself is no better than foolishness.

Prejudice against the truths, the ministers, and the professors of the Gospel, is another powerful cause of inattention to it. Prejudice of this kind bias the mind, and every doctrine of the word is seen with a false perspective. Much of this prejudice may be traced to education, many children being taught to despise and revile every form of religion but that of their parents. And so comes about that dangerous bigotry, which will scarcely deign to allow the hearing of Gospel truth, unless it be presented precisely in a certain way. And in this way thousands are kept from ever making use of the right of private judgment, or using the Scriptures as a guide, content to pin their faith on the sleeves of others.

Some defamatory name is frequently attached to the faithful and hard working servants of Christ. The apostles themselves were said to “turn the world upside down,” and their adherents were deemed “a sect everywhere spoken against.” The immaculate Jesus himself was “called a deceiver, a Samaritan, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” And so, among ourselves, one bad name is sufficient to counterbalance, in a prejudiced mind, all the wisdom and piety that can be collected in a sermon, in a book, or in a minister.

Other persons are kept from duly paying attention to the truth, by the love of the world, which masters their hearts. Like Pilate, they have no fault to find in the Gospel preacher; they will even pay him an occasional compliment, and allow that he is good, and zealous, and useful among the common people; but the world so fills their hearts, that there is not a corner in them left for Christ and his word. Business occupies the greater part of such a person’s time; and how are his leisure hours employed? He wants amusement, and must seek it relentlessly. He cannot appreciate quiet time; he does not knows what it is to sit down and read his Bible, or spend half an hour in thoughtfulness and self-examination. He can sometimes devote a whole day to the pursuit of some pleasure, but cannot spare an hour to hear a sermon.

This indisposition towards the word of grace is peculiarly displayed on the Lord’s day. He makes his weariness on Saturday night an apology for his slowness on the Sunday morning; and the day is spent in anything but serious recollection and meditation on the sermon heard. And so, those precious hours are wasted, which should have been diligently devoted to prayer, reading and hearing the word of life. And in this way he makes light of that heavenly truth, which, through faith, is able to save the soul; and sadly, if sovereign grace does not intervene, he lives and dies in sin, and unbelief.

Let us now go on to state what that attention is, which the great things of God demand from every rational creature, and such as, we have reason to believe, was paid to the word by Lydia.

(1.) A candid attention.

The preacher of the Gospel should not be pre-judged, or condemned unheard. If he is an upright and respectable man, let him be fairly heard, and let his doctrine be impartially weighed in the balance of the sanctuary. The people of Berea are commended on this account, Acts 16. 11. They “were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” The Bereans were of a more noble, candid, and generous disposition; they heard the apostle candidly, and they searched the Scriptures from day to day, that they might judge for themselves of the truth of what he delivered; and, acting in this way, they found such a correspondence between the Christian preacher and the Jewish prophet, that many of them believed.

(2.) A serious attention is due to the word, for it presents to our minds the most serious subjects in the world.

Death and judgment, heaven and hell, are serious things, and should be seriously regarded. We should not bring a light and trifling mind to the word of God. Are we not mortals? The word addresses us as such. Are we not sinners? The word is directed to us as such, and seriously sets before us the pardon that guilty criminals need. Are we not spiritually diseased? The Gospel proposes a sure remedy. Are we not at odds with God? Reconciliation with him, through Jesus, is set before us. We are the wretched slaves of sin and Satan; the Gospel is a proclamation of redemption and liberty. We are miserably poor and needy; but the word of God sets before us true riches. We know we must soon die, and leave this world; the word of life teaches us how to conquer death, and to insure an inheritance in heaven. Surely these things are so important and interesting, as to demand from us a very serious attention.

(3). A devout attention is required.

Does God, the great God of heaven, speak to us? Indeed he does. He speaks from heaven by his word: and this is the only way in which he will speak to us. We are not to seek a messenger from the heaven, as the rich man in the parable did. The revelation of the divine will in the Scripture is complete: nothing must be added to it, nothing taken away from it. “these (things) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) What reverence then is due to the word of God!

In this way the Thessalonians heard the Gospel from the mouth of the apostle, and he commends them for it, (1 Thess. 2, 13.) “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”

Notice that these people not only gave it a hearing, but their hearts were opened, like Lydia’s, to pay attention to it, and embrace it with reverence; not as a human scheme, but as a revelation from God, and on the ground of his authority. Too many persons, in hearing, look no further than to men, and to the words of men; and if they are pleased, it is with the voice or manner of the preacher: but we should hear the word of God as the word of God, and if we do so, it will be with reverence of soul.

(4) A diligent attention is demanded of us.

It is not an insignificant matter which it represents to us; it is for our life, and therefore should be approached with the utmost vigour and energy of our souls. It is sad to think what little effort is applied to the great concern, compared with what is applied to the ordinary business or the light amusements of time! How many are there, who never spent a hundredth of the effort to secure eternal life, that they have spent learning the business by which they earn a living; and how many must have been starved to death, had they not been more diligent for their bodies than they have been for their souls! What labour and pains have been employed in learning Latin or French, Mathematics or Chemistry compared with what have been used in reading the word of God!

How many more hours have some young persons spent at a musical instrument, than they ever devoted to the means of grace! And in many cases, how much more attention to some amusement than to the word of life! But the Gospel of God demands our most diligent attention. The word of Christ must “dwell in us richly;” we must “meditate upon it day and night;” and “hide it in our hearts, that we may not sin against God.” Let it be remembered, that we hear and read for eternity; let those words sound in our ears—for ever! for ever! for ever! and it will encourage us to to pay close attention to the word of life.

(5.) A believing attention is also necessary.

The Gospel is called “the faith,” and “the word of faith,” because it is proposed to our faith, and received by it. It is the testimony of Jehovah, and demands the fullest credit. The word cannot profit our souls, unless it be “mixed with faith,” and then it becomes “the implanted word, which is able to save our souls.” (James 1:21) It is proposed “for the obedience of faith;” and when it is obeyed, it becomes the power of God to our salvation. When we understand the Gospel aright, and perceive that Jesus is the only, all-sufficient, Redeemer of lost sinners, we are encouraged to trust in him alone; we are constrained to esteem and love him above all; and enabled to comply with his directions, desiring to obey him “in all things, whatever he has commanded.”

(6.) A joyful attention is well suited to those who are favoured with “the joyful sound.”

If the Gospel is understood, it will appear to be nothing but good news of great joy. It proclaims pardon; free, full, and everlasting pardon for the greatest of sinners. And if this is really believed, it is bound to cause joy. It did so in all the first converts to Christianity. When Philip went down to Samaria, “and proclaimed to them the Christ... there was much joy in that city.” (Acts 8:5,8) When the jailer at Philippi heard the word of the Lord, “he rejoiced along with his entire household.” (Acts 16:34) And the Thessalonians “received the word,” though in the midst of severe outward troubles, “with the joy of the Holy Spirit;” (1 Thess 1:6) with such inward consolation, as richly compensated for all their afflictions. Finally,

(7.) A practical attention is due to this holy word.

And where it is truly received it cannot fail of “working by love.” That pretended faith, which is inactive and alone, is dead; it is not the faith of God’s elect. A true believer is a “doer of the word.” ‘Therefore James says, (chap. 1. 22,) “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” He compares a mere hearer to a man observing his face in a mirror, and slightly perceives some spots of dirt on it; but it makes no impression, he soon forgets it, and the spots remain unwashed; on the other hand, the true believer intently looks into the doctrine of the Gospel, which is a doctrine of spiritual liberty; he continues in it—does not forget it—is not careless and unmindful of what he heard, or of what he saw of himself in that faithful mirror, but takes care to live in the exercise of every grace, and in the practice of every duty—this man “will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:25) “The fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Rom. 6. 22.)

It now only remains to observe, that wherever the word of God is attended to in this way, it must be ascribed to the grace of God—“The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”

Many women, perhaps, besides Lydia, heard the apostle Paul’s discourse; but we do not read that any besides her was converted at that time. It was grace alone that made her to differ; “the Lord opened her heart.” Her piety beforehand in worshipping the true God was commended; but her hearing the word to profit is ascribed to the power of God. The eyes of her heart were enlightened by the Spirit; for he alone is “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ;” (Ephesians 1:17) He only can “take of the things of Christ, and show them unto us.” Without the heavenly influence, working in and by the word, such is the blindness of our minds, and the carnal hostility of our hearts, that we should never receive the Gospel aright; for the apostle Paul testifies that “the natural person” (including the most rational man) “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2. 14.)

Our Lord also plainly told the Jews, that no man could come to him unless drawn by the Father; but when he is pleased to exert his gracious influence, it is at once effectual, as it was in the case of Lydia. When the Lord himself speaks by his Spirit to a man, selecting and calling him out of the lost world, he can no more disobey than Abraham did, when the Lord spoke to him, in an extraordinary manner, to depart from his country and kindred.

There is a secret, but very powerful, virtue in a word, or look, or touch of this Spirit upon the soul, by which it is forced, not with a harsh, but pleasing violence, and cannot choose but follow it; not unlike that of Elijah’s mantle upon Elisha, 1 Kings 19. 19. How easily did the disciples forsake their callings and dwellings to follow Christ! It was with this sweet but powerful influence the Lord touched the heart of Lydia. Her heart was opened, never more to be closed against the voice of God’s Spirit. It was not a mere temporary affection to the word, a mere religious fit, as the apparent zeal of some may be called, but a renovation of heart and nature, whereby she became a new creature, devoted sincerely to Christ.

Her sincerity was soon conspicuous, for she was not ashamed nor afraid openly to confess Jesus of Nazareth, both among Jews and pagans; but was promptly baptized in his name. She also displayed her love to Christ by a generous regard to his ministers; for she constrained them to lodge at her house, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” Thus did the Lord open the heart of Lydia, and thus he opens the hearts of all his people. The understanding is opened to receive the divine light, the will opened to receive the divine Law, and the affections opened to receive the divine love: and when the heart is opened to Christ in this way, the ear is opened to his word, the lips are opened in prayer, the hands opened in charity, and the steps enlarged in all manner of Gospel obedience.

And now, as we come to a close, let us be sincerely thankful for the word. To us, even to us, is the word of this salvation sent. He has showed his word to Canada, his judgments to Canada. He has not dealt so with every nation— Let us praise the Lord that we have access to his word! When a scarcity of bread is felt, how severe is the affliction felt! When plenty is restored, how great is the benefit esteemed! how much greater is the gift of the Gospel! Philippi was highly favoured when Paul and Silas paid it a visit. But we are more highly favoured. We have Peter and Paul, and the Evangelists. We have Christ himself in his written word, together with the assistance of his ministers, to explain it to us. Let us be thankful for this great blessing.

But how much is it to be lamented, that the human heart is so generally shut against the word of life! Sadly! what enemies to their own souls are such persons! “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Well may we adopt the lamentation of Jeremiah, “Hear and give ear; be not proud, for the LORD has spoken. Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the twilight mountains, and while you look for light he turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness. But if you will not listen, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears.” (Jeremiah 13:15-17)

The obstinacy of sinners in refusing to hear the voice of Christ is extremely troubling to a pious Christian, to a serious minister. It was so to the compassionate heart of our blessed Redeemer, for when he drew near to the rebellious city of Jerusalem, and foresaw its approaching desolation, “he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42)

The time for obtaining eternal life is but a day; if this is lost, the day of vengeance will surely come after. Let us dread the thought of rejecting the counsel of God against ourselves, and so perishing in unbelief; and let us, who are now favored with opportunities of reading and hearing the word, make a good use of them, lest they be finished, before the benefit designed by them is received.

We have been hearing of the grace of God in opening Lydia’s heart. But let us not consider this merely as a history. Let each of us say—Has my heart been opened in the same way? Have I regarded the word of life with a candid, serious, devout, diligent, believing, joyful, and practical attention? If not, surely my neglecting my best interest, and my contempt of the great God who speaks from heaven, is very wrong and dangerous. Ask him who has the key of David, who opens, and no man shuts, to exert in you the same efficacious power, and from this moment let your heart be opened to Him!

And if, indeed, your heart has received the word in this way, it will work in you effectually, as he does in all who believe; it will produce a happy and holy change in your sentiments, principles, and views, hearts and lives; it will be, as our Lord speaks, like the lump of leaven hid in the flour; it will gradually leaven the whole mass; it will in some measure sanctify all the faculties of the soul, and all the members of the body.

May this holy word dwell in us richly more and more, that we may “become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you (have been) committed!” (Romans 6:17)