I wrote this account of God's dealings with me a number of years ago. I copy them just as I wrote them.
I was saved on a Sunday night in August 1986, on my knees in my bedroom at our family home. I'm going to write down what I remember of God's dealings with me on that night, and in the years leading up to it.
I was 19 - nearly 20 - at the time. My conviction of sin started when I was 12. It was at a Sunday School camp, and, for the first time, I truly realised I needed a Saviour. Of course, I always knew in my head that I was a sinner, and that Christ was my only hope of salvation, but from that time on, I knew in my heart that I was a wicked sinner, that I deserved hell, and that I was heading there.
(I was not aware of the term 'conviction of sin', though now I know that's what it was)
For the following 2-3 years, I remained in this state - knowing I really needed to be saved, but it went no further than this. I loved the things of this world, like most of the people I spent my time with, but there was a restraining influence in my life. I loved too, being with the Lord's people, and hearing them talk of the things of the Lord. When I was 14, I heard Rev Douglas MacMillan preaching at evangelistic services in Stornoway on 'The Lord God omnipotent reigneth'. I cannot remember any of what he spoke of in this service, but at the time his sermon went through me like a knife. I would say the next phase of my conviction of sin began then. But so too did my going more and more into sin. I loved the world and all it had to offer. I thank God for strict parents who were loving enough not to be persuaded to allow me to all the places my co-ages were going to. But my heart was being drawn more and more to the world and its drawings. At this stage I read my Bible and prayed every night. This habit had begun in earnest when I was 12 and had never stopped since. I can't remember ever reading anything that was of any real meaning to me. Neither can I recall what my prayers were for. But the habit remained - I fear it may have been almost like a 'lucky charm' type habit....'I'll do it incase I die through the night'.
When I was 16, I left home and went to college on the mainland. From the outside, I lived like all the others around me. There was little evidence of restraining grace, and all the habits of my friends became my habits too. How often I put my life into great danger, and each time the Lord in His mercy kept me safe. During my time in Inverness, my habit of reading a portion of Scripture every night remained. At this stage of my life I was so convicted of my sin - my total and utter filth in the sight of God. I knew I deserved hell; I knew God was absolutely right in sending me to hell; and I was becoming convinced that I had gone too far to be saved. I attended Greyfriars in Inverness every Sunday morning, and although Rev M.A. MacLeod was the minister, I don't think I ever heard anything he said. I went merely to please my parents and to salve my conscience. I remember often during these two years, whilst getting ready in my room to go out, I would have battles going on in my mind. Conscience would say, 'You shouldn't be going out like this: you should be seeking the Lord.'. The 'other side' in my mind would say, 'What's the point? If you're in the elect, you're going to be saved anyway; if you're not, then nothing you do will make any difference'. Even then, I knew that was Satan speaking to my heart, wanting to keep me out of God's kingdom. These arguments went on in my head constantly. It's hard to understand that while all this was going on in my life and in my mind, I loved the world and all it had to offer. I can't remember ever going out with my friends and not enjoying it.
At this time, I had a picture in my mind: it was of a huge, deep pit. At the bottom of this pit was the 'water' in which I and my friends all lived and had fun. On the ground up above, surrounding the pit, was a bright cloud. Beyond this cloud was where the Christians lived. Their lives were hidden behind the cloud and most people thought they lived really boring lives. But I knew differently, and I envied them. Into this pit, people above often poked long sticks with round nets on the bottom. Anyone in the pit could, at any time, stretch out, hold onto the pole, and be lifted out. This was the offer of salvation. I felt if only I was willing to give up this 'water' world, and stretch out, then I would be saved. What was stopping me was the 'in-between' stage of seeking the Lord - the 'stretching out my hand', where all around, the world would see me. This was my stumblingblock - those who were with me seeing me, and me in that intervening period - not saved yet, and not part of the world.
(This doesn't make too much sense, but I tell it as I felt at the time)
There was one more twist to the picture I had. Underneath us was hell, and at any time, with no warning, our lives could be cut down and we would fall into hell. The 'poles' didn't reach down there and there was no hope of ever being saved. In hell, it was 'too late'. These words, 'too late' haunted me. Every day, I wished I wanted salvation desperately enough to stretch out my hand and care nothing for the reaction of friends. Every day too, I wondered whether this would be the day I'd be pulled under into hell, and all hope would be gone.
During these years in Inverness and then in the years I was back home, I saw myself as the worst sinner who'd ever lived. I truly believed that nobody would suffer in hell like I would because nobody's sin was greater than mine. It wasn't just that I sinned; it was that I was sin. Every fibre of my being was sin. This is what I felt. And of all my sins, my greatest sin was my rejection, day after day, of Christ. I knew I'd consciously rejected the Gospel so many times. I felt it was just a matter of time until I was thrown into hell to suffer for what my sins deserved. I absolutely knew that God was right to send me to hell - noone, I believed, had ever deserved it more - not Hitler, not Stalin, not anyone who'd ever lived. Unlike these men, my conscience had spoken to me so many times, yet I'd chosen 'the pleasures of this world' time and time again. And they were pleasures to me. Despite the struggle going on daily in my heart, I loved my life in the world. I loved the company of my friends and acquaintances in the places in which we'd meet. I loved music and dancing, and all the lifestyle which went with this. Having said that, we would have conversations and many of my friends would say, 'Oh I'd like to be converted....sometime - maybe when I'm about 40'. I would say to them, 'Oh no, I would take it tonight if I could have it'. I was aware too of the absolute folly of my position. I knew the Bible was true; I knew I needed a Saviour; I knew the Christian life was something to be desired, and yet, I chose the 'pleasures of this world for a season' rather than giving my heart to Christ.
If anyone had asked me at that time if I believed everything that was in the Bible, I would have said that I absolutely did. I would have said it, and meant it. But there was one thing I did not believe: I knew nothing of the love and of the mercy of God: because of this I did not believe that He would ever, could ever, have mercy on me.
At this time, I don't think I had prayers. I'd go on my knees every night by my bed but I was so ashamed that I found it really hard to say anything to God. I knew even when I said I was sorry, that God knew my heart, and if I knew I was going to do the same things again, then my 'sorry' wasn't genuine at all. At this time, I knew that my sin of rejecting Christ was my greatest sin. I knew that none of my 'lifestyle' sins were anything compared with my awful sin of rejecting Christ, when I knew my heart had been pricked time and time again. I would sometimes be on my knees and feel totally exposed in all my sin before God. At times, I would end up crouched on the floor with my arms covering my head, wishing I could 'hide' from God. God was holy. I was utterly sinful.
'My Spirit shall not always strive with man' was a Scripture that would go round and round in my head, convincing me day after day that I was beyond hope, that God would no longer strive with me. The other truth I was so aware of during these years was, 'if you trust in Christ - just believe that He died for you - you will be saved'. If trusting could save you, then I knew that this 'trusting' must come from God. I knew I couldn't 'switch it on'.
And so to that Sunday night. I'm not aware that I heard anything in the preaching that day that made an impression on me. I had been out with my friends on the Saturday night as usual, and nothing was any different. But that night, in my bedroom, I went on my knees. At this stage there was nothing unusual. I began to 'pray' - to say words, but I have no idea what. During this prayer, something happened. On looking back, I now believe with all my heart that I was born again whilst on my knees that night. I remember I said to God, 'Lord, please keep me out of Cross Inn'.(Cross Inn was our local pub, and meeting place of me and my friends)
Once I said it, a 'voice' in my head responded, 'What! You stay out of Cross Inn? Never!'. At that point, I said to God, 'Well, Lord, I can't do it, but You can. I know You can'. At that very moment, I said to myself, 'I've just trusted in God'. I knew - absolutely knew - that this trust had come from God. I know I hadn't switched it on, and I knew without any shadow of a doubt, that God had done a work in me. At that time I thought He'd begun something: I didn't think I'd actually been saved. (because I hadn't understood the situation properly)
But because I knew that what had happened had come from God, I also knew I could never be lost. From that moment I knew God had me and that He would bring this work to fruition. For the first time in my life, I knew I was not going to hell.
I cannot begin to put into words what this was like. I'd had seven years of conviction of sin; seven years of waiting to be cast into hell; years of picturing hell, and thinking of the terrors of hell, while all the while knowing that my most dreadful imaginings of it couldn't even skim the surface of what it would actually be like. Here I was then, on this Sunday night in the summer of 1986, knowing - not thinking, but knowing - that I was heavenbound. It was salvation!
Because God had begun a work, I knew it could never be undone. I knew that supposing I died that night, God would have brought His work to completion. I was safe. I think it's unusual, but my conviction of sin didn't really change: my impression of what I was didn't really change. What was different now was that Christ stood between me and the anger of God. I felt as though he'd covered me with a huge covering. Christ became my all in all. My beloved Saviour. The only way I can put it is that I fell in love with Christ that night. He truly became 'altogether lovely', hiding me from the anger of God, covering me so that I was hidden in Him. He'd died for me. Now He'd saved me.
There is so much to say from the perspective of the present day. There is so much of what I say (above) that makes me want to shout at the 'me' of 25 years ago. I want to shake her and say, 'Are you mad? You know all this to be true, and you still live your worldly life?' And I want to say to her, 'Oh Anne, do you not know that He is a God of mercy? He will not cast anyone away who comes to Him. He says to come unto Him, all who labour, and He will give you rest.'
These were awful years in many ways, and yet I wouldn't change the conviction of sin I went through for anything. When I was saved, Christ was made so, so precious to me. I wish He were even more precious, and I long for the day when I can praise Him with no sin and no wandering thoughts.
I praise God that His gift of salvation is free: I could never have earned a drop of it.
I thank Him that all the work of grace is His: I was dead, and would never have desired Him.
I thank Him too for opening my eyes, to some extent at least, so that I saw I was a sinner in need of a Saviour: it was indeed 'Grace that taught my heart to fear'.
And I thank Him that He gave that 'Grace my fear relieved'.
No wonder the words of Amazing Grace cause me to weep to this day. I was that wretch that was saved. It's amazing to me. It never ceases to amaze me.