“And enter not into judgement with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” Psalm 143:2.
The passage is one fraught with much instruction, teaching us that God can only show favor to us in our approaches by throwing aside the character of a judge, and reconciling us to himself in a gratuitous remission of our sins. All human righteousness, accordingly, go for nothing, when we come to his tribunal. This is a truth which is universally acknowledged in words, but which very few are seriously impressed with. As there is an indulgence which is mutually extended to one another among men, they all come confidently before God for judgment, as if it were as easy to satisfy him as to gain man’s approval. The passage before us clearly proves that the man who is justified, is he who is judged and reckoned just before God, or whom the heavenly Judge himself acquits as innocent. Now, in denying that any among men can claim this innocence, David intimates that any righteousness which the saints have is not perfect enough to abide God’s scrutiny, and thus he declares that all are guilty before God, and can only be absolved in the way of acknowledging they might justly be condemned. Had perfection been a thing to be found in the world, he certainly of all others was the man who might justly have boasted of it; and the righteousness of Abraham and the holy fathers was not unknown to him; but he spares neither them nor himself, but lays it down as the one universal rule of conciliating God, that we must cast ourselves upon his mercy. This may give us some idea of the satanic infatuation which has taken hold of those who speak so much of perfection in holiness, with a view to supersede remission of sins. Such a degree of pride could never be evinced by them, were they not secretly influenced by a brutish contempt of God. They speak in high and magnificent terms of regeneration, as if the whole kingdom of Christ consisted in purity of life. But in doing away with the principal blessing of the everlasting covenant — gratuitous reconciliation — which God’s people are commanded to seek daily, and in puffing up both themselves and others with a vain pride, they show what spirit they are of.
This of itself, however, which we have stated, is not enough; for the Papists themselves acknowledge that were God to enter upon an examination of mens lives as a judge, all would lie obnoxious to just condemnation. And in this respect they are sounder, more moderate and sober, than those of whom we have just spoken. But though not arrogating to themselves righteousness in the whole extent of it, they show, by obtruding their merits and satisfactions, that they are very far from following the example of David. They are always ready to acknowledge some defect in their works, and so, in seeking God’s favor, they plead for the assistance of his mercy. But there is nothing intermediate between these two things, which are represented in Scripture as opposites — being justified by faith and justified by works. It is absurd for the Papists to invent a third species of righteousness, which is partly wrought out by works of their own, and partly imputed to them by God in his mercy. Without all doubt, when he affirmed that no man could stand before God were his works brought to judgment, David had no idea of this complex or twofold righteousness, but would shut us up at once to the conclusion that God is only favorable upon the ground of his mercy, since any reputed righteousness of man has no significance before him. John Calvin