“When men had lost a spiritual acquaintance with the covenant of grace and mystery of the Gospel, the design of eternal love and efficacy of the blood of Christ, they betook themselves for relief, under their entanglements, to the broken cisterns mentioned. This mistake is predominant in all that are under the law; that is, to seek for relief in sin-distresses by self-endeavors, self righteousness; hence many poor souls in straits apply but to themselves. They expect their cure from the same hand that wounded them. This was the life of Judaism, as the apostle informs us, Rom. 10:3; and all men under the law are still animated by the same principle: “They return, but not unto the Lord.” Finding themselves in distress for sin, what course do they take? They do this: as they have offended so they will amend, and expect their peace to spring from thence, as if God and they stood on equal terms. In this way some spend their days, sinning and amending, amending and sinning, without once coming to repentance and peace.
This the souls of believers watch against. They look on themselves as fatherless, “in thee the fatherless findeth mercy;” that is, helpless, without the least ground of hope in themselves, or expectation from themselves: they know their repentance, their amendment, their supplications, their humiliations, their fastings, their mortifications will not relieve them. Repent they will, and amend they will, and pray, and fast, and humble their souls, for they know these things to be their duty; but they know that their goodness extends not to Him with whom they have to do, nor is he profited by their righteousness. They will be in the performance of all duties, but they expect not deliverance by any duty. It is God, they say, with whom we have to do; our business is to hear what he will say unto us.”
- John Owen, The Forgiveness of Sins, pp. 39-40.