I’ve been curious for a while about where the phrase “preach the gospel to yourself” came from.
The heart of this idea is thousands of years old. The Old Testament Psalmist, while not explicitly speaking of the full revelation of the gospel in Jesus Christ, preached to himself, saying: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God… my salvation and my God” (Psa. 42:5). He preached to himself to hope in God. Similarly the man in Lamentations made a decisive turn in his depression through preaching to himself: “but this I call to mind (lit., “this I cause to return to my heart”) and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” (Lam. 3:21-22).
But where did the phrase come from? My hunch is that the person who put feet on it and caused it to run throughout our generation was Jerry Bridges. This theme wasn’t actually in his first and most well known book, The Pursuit of Holiness. It wasn’t until after writing that book that he saw and stressed the centrality of the gospel in the Christian life. (See second paragraph here.) Following that book, he discovered the centrality of the gospel for everyday life and he began to emphasize it. From here, he often used the phrase, “preach the gospel to yourself.”
While I think Bridges has promoted the phrase more than anyone, he got it from someone else. In the preface to The Discipline of Grace (a book in which one of the chapters is titled, “Preach the Gospel to Yourself”) he says, “I… owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Dr. Jack Miller, from whom I acquired the expression, “Preach the gospel to yourself every day” (p 8).
Jack Miller was a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary as well as church planter and pastor. He died in 1996, but in his last decades God used him to spread gospel renewal especially in Presbyterian circles. Through his mentoring, teaching, and writing, he influenced many men whom God is now using to continue the work of gospel-focused renewal in our day––such as Tim Keller, and David Powlison, and Scotty Smith.
Of course, it does not matter much where the phrase came from, or even that we use it. But it clarifies one of the central ways in which we grow: We need an external word, the word of God’s grace, and we can even bring that word to ourselves.
- Why I’m Looking Forward to Meeting Jack Miller
- A Few Quick Thoughts from Jack Miller
- To Get Obedience, Put the Accent on Grace, Not Obedience
- Review: Jerry Bridges, The Transforming Power of the Gospel