I once heard a message given by Jerry Bridges on the importance of preaching the gospel to one’s self. I had never really thought much about the idea before hearing his message. He talked about the importance of keeping in the front of our minds the truth that we are accepted by God solely on the basis of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ. He said that by preaching the gospel to ourselves on a regular basis we are safeguarded from the folly of thinking that our standing with God is based on our own efforts, performance, or righteousness. His admonition has stuck with me. Preaching the gospel to myself has become the primary means of overcoming the soul-paralyzing influences of pride, false-guilt, self-condemnation, and disappointment in my walk with the Lord.
And, in no place is this more true in my life than in my place of prayer. Even as I begin my prayer time with confessing my sins to the Lord, I also begin my prayer time by preaching the gospel to myself. As I pray and seek God for forgiveness for my wrongdoings, my wrong thinking, my ignorance, my frailty, my brokenness; I acknowledge my utter and desperate dependence upon Christ for receiving any mercy from God. As I make confession to God in this way, I remind myself that I am saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. When time permits, I do this with an ancient text that my husband introduced to me several years ago called “Anselm’s Tract for the Dying” (posted below). By beginning my prayer time by preaching the gospel to myself, I am reminded not only of the great chasm that would exist between me and God if it were not for the forgiveness and redemption that I have been given in Christ, but I am also reminded that my hope of being heard by God in prayer is based entirely on grace alone.
Meditating on the gospel puts me into the right frame of mind for prayer. Whether I use Anselm’s Tract for the Dying or not, I always try to start my prayer times with the recognition that the mercy and grace of God is not only the only hope that I have of being saved, but it is also the only hope that I have of being heard and answered by God when I pray. A humble mind and a contrite heart is the result of preaching the gospel to myself, and a humble mind and a contrite heart are essential to be heard by God. I thank God for the admonition of Jerry Bridges to preach the gospel to myself, and I also thank God for this ancient text that has helped me pray the gospel to myself.
Anselm’s Tract for the Dying
“Question. Dost thou believe that the Lord Jesus died for thee? Answer. I believe it.
Qu. Dost thou thank him for his passion and death?
Ans. I do thank him.
Qu. Dost thou believe that thou canst not be saved except by his death?
Ans. I believe it.
And then Anselm addresses the dying man: “Come then, while life remaineth in thee; in his death alone place thy whole trust; in naught else place any trust; to his death commit thyself wholly; with this alone cover thyself wholly; and if the Lord thy God will to judge thee, say, ‘Lord, between thy judgment and me I present the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; no otherwise can I contend with thee.’ And if he shall say that thou art a sinner, say thou: ‘Lord, I interpose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my sins and thee.’ If he say that thou hast deserved condemnation, say: ‘Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my evil deserts and thee, and his merits I offer for those which I ought to have and have not.’ If he say that he is wroth with thee, say: ‘Lord, I oppose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thy wrath and me.’ And when thou hast completed this, say again: ‘Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thee and me.’”
See Anselm, Opera (Migne), 1:686, 687.