Good observations from the Scottish preacher and writer John Colquhoun (1748 – 1827), from his book A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel:
Can a man perform no good works till after he is justified in the sight of God? Hence it is manifest that they who rely on their own obedience for a title to justification are strangers to good works.
Their continued and avowed dependence on their own works for a right to justification is a sure evidence that they have never performed a single good work; it demonstrates them to be totally destitute of that “holiness without which no one shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). To pretend to sanctification, and then to rely on it for justification, is to derive the fountain from the stream, the cause from the effect, and so to invert the order of the blessings of salvation.
It is necessary that our sins are forgiven, and our persons accepted as righteous in the sight of God, in order to our being capable of yielding the least degree of acceptable obedience to Him. …
It is the distinguishing property of all good works that they are performed from, and not for, justification.