Works of Necessity and the Sabbath

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Puritan Board Freshman
What exactly constitutes a work of necessity? I understand that works of mercy and necessity are exceptions to the general command against labor on the Sabbath. While works of mercy seem fairly straightforward, I’m having more difficulty understanding what falls within the works of necessity exception.

I’m particularly interested in when, if ever, work for an employer could be a work of necessity. I’m a new lawyer. If a major trial or hearing is scheduled for a Monday, is preparation for said hearing ever a work of necessity?
I have not been asked to work on a Sunday yet, but I anticipate that this will happen at some point and I’d like to be prepared with the answer. Thanks!


Staff member
A work of necessity is something that couldn't be done before the Lord's Day and can't be deferred till after the Lord's Day. If a case or some aspect of it was just dumped on one unexpectedly, that could fall as a work of necessity to be fully prepared for court on Monday. But if it is regular routine and known and could be prepared for before to be ready on Monday, that is not an act of necessity. In a sense it is the same question as the student who knows he has a test on Monday. Now, we often put ourselves in necessity by not doing something before when we knew about it before the Lord's Day; in that case, do the thing, repent and resolve better practice in future to not put under such a necessity again. I'm basically paraphrasing Nicholas Bownd, True Doctrine of the Sabbath (RHB and Naphtali Press, 2015), p. 225.

Don Kistler

Puritan Board Sophomore
Edna Gerstner, wife of the late John Gerstner, related this story to me some years ago. She had gone with him when he preached in Philadelphia, which was about a 6 hour drive from their home in Ligonier, PA. They left right after he had preached on Sunday morning. A few hours later she asked him when they were going to stop for lunch. He told her that he was not going to stop for lunch as that did not fall under the heading of works of mercy or necessity. She asked him who *could* be open on Sunday. He said police, firemen, and hospitals. She told him that he'd better get her something to eat or she would need to GO to the hospital. Then she said, "Take me to a hospital. They will have a cafeteria there!"
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