And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysis the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them (Acts 17:32-34).
The above verses conclude the remarks of inspiration concerning Paul’s labors in Athens. He had preached the Gospel faithfully and these verses sum up the effects of his preaching on the hearers.
There are three attitudes toward the truth manifested by different portions of his audience. Some mocked, or frankly disbelieved it. Others showed a passing interest, or indifference toward it. Some believed and embraced the Gospel. I believe it would be worthwhile to inquire as to why the Gospel did not have the same effect on everyone. Why the differing attitudes toward the preaching of the Gospel? Could it be that some of their personalities matched Paul’s, while others clashed, and thus their feeling for the preacher influenced them? Do you suppose that the Lord was responsible for their obedience or disobedience by electing some to salvation and others to damnation? I suggest that these are not the causes for the effects of gospel preaching.
There is one gospel for everybody. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). The effect of preaching the Gospel depends entirely on the hearts of the hearers. Some prepare their hearts to receive the truth, whatever it may be, and others condition their hearts to oppose anything which they do not think to be approved by human wisdom. “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it” (Ezra 7:10). Before a person can be favorably impressed by the truth his heart must be prepared to receive it. If he listens with a prejudiced heart the effect of the Gospel preaching will be negative. That would seem to be the meaning of 2 Thess. 2:10-12: “…They received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” This does not mean that God told anyone a lie, or that He is responsible for anyone believing a lie. Rather, the strong delusion was sent by the preaching of the Gospel. Those who prepared not their hearts to receive the truth, (they had not the “love of the truth”), believed a lie instead. The Lord was not responsible for their ungodly attitude, but they had pleasure in unrighteousness. The truth that could save them if they believed, could condemn them if they disbelieved.
In this connection we may refer to an Old Testament incident. Exodus 4:21 says: “And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return to Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: But I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.” Here God said that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart that he should not obey Moses. How did He do it? All of the force in the world could not have hardened anyone’s heart who wanted to receive the truth. How can it be said then that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Was it by withholding the truth? To the contrary; it was by sending Moses with his miraculous signs that the Lord hardened the heart of the Egyptian monarch. If Pharaoh had taken the right attitude toward the message of Moses, the effect of the preaching would have been good. But he rejected the truth, thus his heart was hardened.
Surely all of this is sufficient to show that effects of gospel preaching depend entirely upon the disposition of heart among the hearers. It is only our responsibility to be sure that we are preaching the truth. We cannot be responsible for how it is received.