Lutherans are a singing lot so traditional Lutheran worship is rich in hymnody. While hymnody is clearly preferred to what has infiltrated the churches in the last 40 or 50 years, and which ironically is sometimes defended today as "traditional," this does not mean all hymnody is equal. As I am not a hymnologist it is not my intent here to make any comparisons. Still, hymnody is a distinct form of music written for worship and not for entertainment. One area where hymnody is strong is in the text where theology is allowed to speak.
At the masses this past weekend a phrase stuck out from one of the Advent hymns we sang, ". . . And in faith I will embrace, Lord, Thy merit through Thy grace." In a few words we have Lord, grace, faith and merit. Clearly the emphasis is on Christ and His righteousness which we receive through grace in faith. As for emphasis the word "merit" is added. This leads me not to the obvious reformation debate but to another look at the word "merit." The hymn teaches our benefit coming from Christ's merit. Christ and merit are not in opposition. Works can be good, especially that wrought on the cross of Christ for our sake. Is not the good that we do that which He prepares in advance for us to do and that which He works in and through us? Sometimes we take too much pride in our sin wearing it on our sleeve (that grace may abound?). Anti-nomianism is free to take exception but the Law must be good in order for God to give it to us and for Christ to fulfill it on behalf of us. His merits, His works are good and full of mercy.
We tend to shy away from good works as if they may undo Christ's atonement or we may think that doing good works automatically means we are proud and boastful in ourselves. This phrase from the hymn makes me wonder if our merits in Christ are indeed "good." Certainly these merits or good works go together with grace and faith. We need not advertise to others what we have done nor ought we be nervous if we have done something good in our life before God and others. We need not discredit the merits of others nor the merits of the Saints. These merits are the life of Christ and the life we now live in the flesh is the life we live by faith in the Son of God. So it was for the Saints. He who gives sinners the Law also redeems and sanctifies us. His works, our works, are good. Our faith is not alone.