Awakened sinners are liable to the same erroneous conceptions, and usually fall into the same mistakes. They are all prone to think, that by reforming their lives, they can restore themselves to the favor of God. They commonly apply to the works of the law for relief, in the first instance; and when driven from this false refuge, by a clearer view of the spirituality and extent of the law, and the depth of their own depravity, they are apt to give up all for lost, and seriously to conclude that there is no hope in their case. They are all prone to misapprehend the nature of the Gospel: of its freeness they can at first form no conception; and therefore they think it necessary to come with some price in their hands — to obtain some kind of preparation or fitness, before they venture to come to Christ. And when it is clear that no moral fitness can be obtained until they apply to him, this legal spirit will lead the soul under conviction to think, that very deep and pungent distress will recommend it to Christ; and thus many are found seeking and praying for a more deep and alarming impression of their sin and danger.
It is also very common to place undue dependence on particular means; especially on such as have been much blessed to others. Anxious souls are prone to think, that in reading some particular book, or in hearing some successful preacher, they will receive the grace of God which brings salvation; in which expectation they are generally disappointed, and are brought at last to feel that they are entirely dependent on sovereign grace; and that they can do nothing to obtain that grace. Before, they were like a drowning man catching at every thing which seemed to promise support; but now, they are like a man who feels that he has no support, but is actually sinking. Their cry, therefore, is now truly a cry for mercy. “God be merciful unto me a sinner.” “Lord save, I perish.” And it has often been proverbially said, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity,” which is commonly realized by the soul cut off from all dependence on itself — the arm of the Lord is stretched forth to preserve it from sinking; the Savior’s voice of love and mercy is heard; light breaks in upon the soul, and it finds itself embraced in the arms of the Savior; and so wonderful is the transition, that it can scarcely trust to its own experience.
Archibald AlexanderVital Piety