Just recently I had a heart attack. I had cut down my salt intake to an absolute minimum. I had used skimmed milk and the right kind of margarine (‘proven to dramatically lower cholesterol to help maintain a healthy heart’). But I still had a heart attack.
Being a non-conformist, my heart attack was obviously going to be non-conformist too! Our local hospital, having subjected me to tests, promptly transferred me to an Edinburgh hospital where more advanced equipment was available.
It was evening when I made the journey by ambulance, passing first our home and then our church, where the lights were on for the midweek Bible study and prayer meeting. How comforting to know that I was being remembered at the throne of grace!
As the ambulance sped towards Edinburgh and (for me) the unknown, there suddenly came into my mind the words, ‘It’s real!’ My consciousness was flooded with reassuring conviction and comfort – the gospel was real! Jesus Christ was real! Salvation was real!
Tests in Edinburgh revealed the need for urgent open-heart surgery – a double bypass and a valve replacement. The consultant explained with admirable honesty that there was a 15% chance of me not surviving the operation.
That evening I had to say goodbye to Sally, my wife. We prayed, thanking the Lord for giving us each other and for the years we had been able to spend together, and then committing ourselves into his loving care.
Then I was alone. I decided to have a personal judgement day. Was I really saved? Were my sins forgiven? If I died, would I go to heaven?
The way to heaven
In theory, there are two ways to heaven. The first is by perfect obedience to God in all things and at all times. But born with a sinner’s nature, there was no possibility that I would get to heaven by good works and obedience.
The only other way was by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, which operates through the three elements of the gospel message. First, repentance. Yes, I had repented, but I saw that my repentance was not perfect. Secondly, faith. Yes, I had trusted solely in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, yet I had to admit that my faith had not been perfect.
Thirdly, had my life demonstrated that I had repented and believed? Yes, but how many failures there had been since I was converted as a teenager!
I would not minimise for a moment the importance of repentance, faith and a consistent life – the promise of salvation is to those who repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and whose faith is proven by their works (Ephesians 2:10; James 2:20-22).
But I had to remind myself that what saved me was not my repentance, faith or works. I had to come back to this – Jesus saves! God’s only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, had died for me on Calvary’s cross. He died bearing my sins, as my substitute.
I had to look away from my imperfections to his perfection; from my failures to his accomplishment; from what I had done to what he had done. Yes, I was saved! Jesus was my only plea, his sacrifice my only hope.
With such thoughts, I slept, leaving my life in the safe hands of my heavenly Father.
It was humbling to receive such lavish attention. First by the medical staff – radiologists, anaesthetists, consultants and a host of others. Although I knew nothing of it, there were occasions during the operation when things looked grim. But these people saved my life.
Later, I counted as many as eleven doctors gathered round my bedside, talking about me in hushed tones. One doctor departed giving me the thumbs-up sign and exclaiming, ‘Miracle!’ I’m not sure if that was a medical opinion but it will do for me.
Secondly, so many brothers and sisters in the Lord have remembered me at the throne of grace. May the Lord bless them all! To be prayed for by others is both humbling and encouraging.
Cards and letters came tumbling though the letter box. One card brought to me in hospital specially cheered me. Referring to a sermon I preached over fifteen years ago, the writer said, ‘The Holy Spirit convicted me of my sin and opened my eyes to understand the gospel, then changed my heart to love the Saviour’ – all unknown to the preacher till that card arrived. It was almost worth having a heart attack to receive that news!
Gentle and kind
But best of all has been the attention lavished on me by the Lord himself. He chose me in Christ before the foundation of the world. He sent his precious Son to die for my sins. He watched over me for years when I was oblivious to him.
He sent his Holy Spirit to work in my heart and bring me to himself. He kept me all those years when I so often let him down. And he has been specially close during this recent time of trial.
The truth struck me as never before that this God, who is sovereign, almighty, holy and righteous, is at the same time gentle and kind. Truly, a bruised reed he will not break and smoking flax he will not quench.
The Word of God was a great comfort to me during those days in hospital. In times of infirmity, when the concentration level is low, just one verse repeated a few times may be sufficient. I found it most helpful to be given a verse a day – which I memorised and meditated upon.
The best place
Tragically, just a little while before my heart attack, a Reformed pastor who we vaguely knew left his wife to live with someone else’s wife. I was so thankful to the Lord that if my ministry is to end, it will do so because of infirmity and not because of immorality – because of sickness not sin. I give him all the praise for keeping me from sin.
The future is in the best place – the Lord’s hands. He has been faithful and good in the past, and he does not change. ‘His love in time past forbids me to think he’ll leave me at last in trouble to sink’.
‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.’