If the means of grace (prayer, study, etc.) constituted some form of bartering/payment with God for His favor, I’d be in deep weeds. At least in term of the excruciatingly slow pace with which I’ve been slogging through Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. To my chagrin I’ve yet to work my way through this classic in its entirety. A long time ago I decided to take a mere paragraph a day as part of my daily devotions. To date I’ve managed to get only as far as Book Two, Chapter 8. I can’t honestly remember when I started on this pilgrimage.
That present chapter concerns Calvin’s exposition of the moral law of God. Paragraph three of chapter 8 addresses one of three uses of the law in our lives that, as he puts it, causes us to descend into ourselves.
When, under the guidance of the Law, we have advanced thus far, we must, under the same guidance, proceed to descend into ourselves. In this way, we at length arrive at two results: First, contrasting our conduct with the righteousness of the Law, we see how very far it is from being in accordance with the will of God, and, therefore, how unworthy we are of holding our place among his creatures, far less of being accounted his sons; and, secondly, taking a survey of our powers, we see that they are not only unequal to fulfill the Law, but are altogether null. The necessary consequence must be, to produce distrust of our own ability, and also anxiety and trepidation of mind. Conscience cannot feel the burden of its guilt, without forthwith turning to the judgment of God, while the view of this judgment cannot fail to excite a dread of death. In like manner, the proofs of our utter powerlessness must instantly beget despair of our own strength. Both feelings are productive of humility and abasement, and hence the sinner, terrified at the prospect of eternal death (which he sees justly impending over him for his iniquities), turns to the mercy of God as the only haven of safety. Feeling his utter inability to pay what he owes to the Law, and thus despairing of himself, he rethinks him of applying and looking to some other quarter for help.
Altogether null. Despair of our strength. Utter inability to pay.
These words and phrases describe the descent into self brought about by the effect of the law leading to the sobering admission that we stand no chance whatsoever of fulfilling the law in our own pitifully paltry strength.
Reformers call this the pedagogical use of the law for a reason. It teaches us of our absolute need for the mercy of God in Christ as the only haven of safety. It guides us to the cross.
Romans 8:3 – 4 says
 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
The Son of God is that quarter of help, in His work on the cross, the only quarter and the completely able quarter of help at that, which can relieve us of the misery of our conviction before the crushing weight of the Law’s righteousness and make us acceptable in a holy God’s sight. There is no other quarter of help that can do that for you and for me.
Whether we read through Calvin at breakneck speed or a snail’s pace, the grace of God in Jesus Christ remains the same. He is mighty to save. Mighty to save. No condemnation now I dread. I am my Lord’s and He is mine. Grace, all is of grace.