Where Did the Phrase, “Preach the Gospel to Yourself,” Come From?

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). Calling myself to look at the one who was his salvation and his God had the power to pull him out of the pit of despair. Similarly the man in Lamentations made a decisive turn in his depression: “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 these don’t give us the phrase. So, where did it come from? Thankfully, it’s used all over the place these days. My hunch is that the person who put feet on it and therefore caused it to run throughout this generation is Jerry Bridges. Perhaps surprisingly, this theme wasn’t in his first and probably most well known book, The Pursuit of Holiness. It wasn’t until after writing this book that he began to more clearly see and stress the centrality of the gospel in the life of the Christian (See second paragraph here). Following that book, however, he began emphasizing the centrality of the gospel for everyday life and often used the phrase, “preach the gospel to yourself,” to express it.

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 wherein 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” (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 was used by God to bring gospel renewal to many. Through his mentoring, teaching, and writing, he influenced many men who are now being used by God to continue the work of gospel-focused renewal in our day such as Tim Keller, and David Powlison, and Scotty Smith.

At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters much where the phrase came from, or even that we use it. The point is that we’re doing it. Nevertheless, I’m thankful for it’s clarifying power.

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6 Responses to Where Did the Phrase, “Preach the Gospel to Yourself,” Come From?

  1. Scotty Smith says:

    Drew, Jack was always looking to give credit somewhere else. He probably would have credited something he found in Walter Marshall’s “The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification” or something he heard John Murray say in class at Westminster Seminary. Thanks for your blog! Scotty

  2. Michael says:

    Occurs extensively in writings of Lloyd-Jones, also

  3. Drew Hunter says:

    Michael. Thanks for the note here. Do you have any examples? I am aware of his exhortation in ‘Spiritual Depression’ to not listen to ourselves, but rather, to talk to our selves. But where does he explicitly refer to preaching the gospel to ourselves? Any help is appreciated. Thanks,

    – Drew

  4. Pingback: Preach the Gospel to myself | wwwPILGRIM

  5. Chuck Funderburk says:

    Drew, I found myself asking the same question and that’s how I found your blog. I know a pastor or Sunday School teacher used the phrase recently and it was at least a part of the subject. I remember that it resonated within me. I think the best part of your blog was your paraphrase of Lloyd-Jones, “to not listen to ourselves, but rather, to talk to our selves.” My take away is that my ‘new man’ (Christ’s Spirit) should do more talking and my ‘old man’ (my flesh) should do more listening.

    Thanks,
    Chuck

  6. Here are a couple other quotes that get at the same idea – I think you’re right, though, Jack Miller is probably the first in recent history. I checked back through dmlj again and I think I was wrong. “Preaching to yourself,” yes, but not the full phrase.

    “Richard Baxter’s The Saints [sic] Everlasting Rest (London, 1650) contains one of the most influential Puritan discussions of meditation. In it Baxter refers to the meditative work of the rational faculty as ‘Consideration,’ which he says can be called ‘a Preaching to ones self’ in order to ‘quicken’ the heart; ‘Enter into a serious debate with it: Plead with it in the most moving and affecting language: Urge it with the most weighty and powerful Arguments.’ Legitimate aids in meditation were prayer, which ‘keeps the Soul in mind of the Divine Presence,’ and a reliance on sensory detail; that is, in order to make divine truth more vivid in the fallen mind, Baxter argued, the faithful could make use of concrete images and aids to this end.”
    Daniel Patterson, Introduction to Edward Taylor’s God’s Determinations and Preparatory Meditations: A Critical Edition. Kent State (Kent, Ohio: 2003), 33-34.

    “So learn to speak to one’s heart and to the Law. When the law creeps into your conscience, learn to be a cunning logician–learn to use the arguments of the gospel against it. Say, O law! You would climb up into the kingdom of my conscience, and there reign and condemn me for sin, and would take from me the joy of my heart which I have by faith in Christ, and drive me to desperation, that I might be without hope. You have over-stepped your bounds. Know your place! You are a guide for my behavior, but you are not Savior and Lord of my heart. For I am baptized, and through the Gospel am called to receive righteousness and eternal life…So trouble me not! For I will not allow you, so intolerable a tyrant and tormentor, to reign in my heart and conscience– for they are the seat and temple of Christ the Son of God, who is the king of righteousness and peace, and my most sweet savior and mediator. He shall keep my conscience joyful and quiet in the sound and pure doctrine of the Gospel through the knowledge of this passive and heavenly righteousness.”
    Martin Luther, Preface to Galatians

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