Acts of Mercy and necessity

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by Scott Bushey, Nov 17, 2017.

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  1. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    In a recent discussion on the sabbath day and the 4th commandment, I mentioned acts of mercy and necessity and how this doctrine is abused in the church to a degree. None of us would argue against the need for mercy and it's place on the sabbath day; as well, the professions that are necessary. However, I would like to discuss the difference between the two as many times, they are combined, i.e. a nurse working with invalid patients is both necessary and merciful.

    Also, are these works of mercy, truly merciful if one's heart towards the day is to get paid; the same can be said of necessity. As a nurse, I have never had to work on the Lord's day, else by choice; there was always someone to work-even when I was a floor nurse. Whenever I switched jobs, I made it clear that I could not work the Lord's day, routinely, however, if an emergency arose and they were in a bind, I would be more than happy to work, my heart always being fixed on the sabbath day.

    In the other thread, I made the comment that if one is truly being merciful on the sabbath day, one would as well, not look for payment on the work done and the funds should be used to amplify the work of mercy, give it to the church for a needy family, buy a blanket for someone, etc. and I was told that it was a bizarre idea.

    Here is an excerpt from Nicholas Bownd on the doctrine:

    the OldCourse wrote:

    I disagree and this is at the crux of the matter. 'The validity' does not give a open pass on the day. For example, my being a nurse does not exempt me from the sabbath day given the validity. There must be some limitations and attitude that accompany the doctrine.
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2017
  2. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    It's awesome that you don't have to work on Sundays....I wish I didn't. However, the hospital at which I work does not give anyone that option. Also, EVERYONE with whom I work values their Sundays for one reason or another and wouldn't work mine. But let's pretend that they would. I trade my Sundays for their Saturdays and they work my Sundays. Now I've just broken a part of the Sabbath we're not suppose to break which is to do nothing which causes another person to work on the Sabbath unnecessarily.

    As far as tithing the money one makes on Sunday, how do you make that up when Sundays are a part of your FTE? Where in Scripture does it state that we are to give to tithe the money we make on Sunday, and I'll grant you this duty. However, I feel this is a man-made law. I find man-made laws always make people feel righteous. However, they only lead to self-righteousness leading further to pride and a judgmental attitude. It also doesn't make God very happy that those man-made laws are being added to his laws without his permission.
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2017
  3. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    You misunderstand my point. My point was abusus non tollit usum. The misuse of something is no argument against the use. I'm sure there are cases of people using the confessional exception as a pretext while their intention is merely to make money which would be sin. But just because one nurse, for instance, might pick up a Sunday shift for some overtime hours instead of to meet the needs of their patients doesn't mean that it's not valid for a nurse to work on Sunday.

    With regard to your not working on the Sabbath, that's fine, but in your job as a bedside nurse it only forced someone else to work on the Sabbath, which, to my mind, isn't especially laudable. It's not as if your employer was asking you to engage in unnecessary labors on the Lord's Day, it's that labors were necessary on that day and you deferred to someone else to perform them. Sure, the person who performed them probably didn't scruple at it, but that's only because we live in an atheistic nation. I'm sure your employer would have been happy to have you care for the patients for free and demonstrate Christian mercy. They didn't leave patients unsupervised while you were fulfilling your Lord's Day obligations. Someone had to be there to care for them--it's work of necessity. It's a different situation than if you were an accountant and your boss wanted you to come in on Sunday.

    I also think your conflation of necessity and mercy causes issues for your last point. If it was purely one of voluntary mercy, your point would stand. As it is primarily one of necessity instead, ordinary compensation is reasonable. I know what Bownd says, in fact I have the book on my coffee table right now, and while I do think what he says has merit in many situations, I think it goes far beyond good and necessary consequence when applied broadly--especially if as the basis for church discipline per the other thread. Bownd, I believe, does not sufficiently answer the first objection since the Scriptural argument for ministerial compensation is not one of a special exception or dispensation but based on the natural law of a worker deserving his wages.
  4. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Thanks for your response. Let me be clear: I am not saying that there is no such thing as W of M or necessity-we both know there is, but where is the line drawn? Surely u agree that there are limitations on the idea and many people in the church abuse the principle; in fact, the church often stumbles it's people by allowing for the loose understanding of the principle. I can't tell u how many times I have heard a person working on the sabbath and were in questionable professions. Where do we draw the line? McDonalds? It feeds people. Gas stations? People need gas to get to hospitals, etc. It would seem as if we can never reel in these things and make any true distinctions. In that, it would seem as if the idea comes down to a heart issue and the one working needs to determine if the work is actually a W of N or mercy.

    It is my opinion that believers should only pursue employment that offers the Lord's day off. It should be at the forefront of their interviews with said employer that they are strict sabbatarians and the only time they would be able to work on the sabbath would be in emergent situations and most times, it is not presented as such to these employers.

    I still hold that acts of mercy or necessity should be periodic and not routine.

    A thought-provoking point several puritans raise is that we ought not to work for gain on the Lord’s day. The fourth command restricts labouring and doing “all thywork” to the six weekdays. They define “thy work” as the work God gives us in order for us to support ourselves. Those whose calling is necessary seven days a week ought to do their work on the Sabbath not as “their work” but as “God’s work” of preserving life and promoting Sabbath rest. Thomas Vincent concludes that in these works “we ought not to have a reference chiefly to ourselves, or any temporal advantage, but to be as spiritual as may be in them.”[4]Bownd encourages doctors to freely serve the sick on the Sabbath and pharmacies to charge only for the medication and not the labour. If people are paid, they may devote it to the Lord to show that they are working out of pity and not for profit and are serving a compassionate God and not their covetous greed.[5]This practice would certainly be a test of our motives in doing even “works of necessity” on the Sabbath!

    Rev. David Kranendonk

    Works of necessity also involve taking care of emergencies: invading armies, fighting fires, floods, earthquakes, car accidents. If it is permissible to save the life of a beast on the Sabbath (Mt. 12:11-12), then it is permissible to save human life also. “But in all these things it should be regarded, that the necessity be real, and not pretended: for it is not enough that the work can be done to such advantage on another day; for that might let out people on the Sabbath, if it be a windy day or so, to cut down their corn, whom yet God has in a special manner provided against, Exod. xxxiv. 21.”99 Christians must never confuse an inconvenience with a genuine necessity or emergency. If worship is to be missed, it should be because of a real sickness or hazard. Some treat a slight fatigue as a serious flu or a half inch of snow as a blizzard simply because they are lazy and do not really want to attend to the means of grace. Others break the Sabbath who turn ordinary providence into a crisis. These are motivated out of greed rather than laziness. “Hence though the weather and season is rainy, yet it is not lawful to cut down or gather in corn on the sabbath, their hazard in this case being common and from an ordinary immediate providence.

    Those who turn necessity into a loophole to mow lawns, chop wood, harvest crops or pull weeds are perverting the commandment to their own detriment and destruction.

    B. Schwertley

    When, however, we maintain the lawfulness of performing works of necessity and mercy on the sabbath day, some cautions ought to be attended to. First, let the necessity be real, not pretended; of which, God and our own consciences are the judges.—Again, if we think that we have a necessary call to omit or lay aside our attendance on the ordinances of God on the sabbath day, let us take heed that the necessity be not brought on us by some sin committed, which gives occasion to the judicial hand of God. Let us observe also that providence, which renders it necessary for us to absent from ordinances, should be rather submitted to, than esteemed a matter of choice or delight.—Further, if necessity obliges us to engage in secular employments on the Lord’s day, as in the instances of those whose business is to provide physic for the sick, let us, nevertheless, labour to possess a spiritual frame, becoming the holiness of the day, so far as may consist with what we are immediately called to do.—Again, as we ought to see that the work we are engaged in is necessary; so we must not spend more time in it than what is needful.—Finally, if we have a necessary call to engage in worldly matters, and so be detained from public ordinances, we must endeavour to satisfy others that the providence of God obliges us to act as we do; that so we may not give offence to them, or they take occasion, without just reason, to follow their own employments, to do which would be a sin in them.

    Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, vol. 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 357–358.

    In leaving the subject, let us beware that we are never tempted to take low views of the sanctity of the Christian Sabbath. Let us take care that we do not make our gracious Lord’s teaching an excuse for profaning the Sabbath. Let us not abuse the liberty which he has so clearly marked out for us, and pretend that we do things on the Sabbath from “necessity and mercy,” which in reality we do for our own selfish gratification.

    There is great reason for warning people on this point. The mistakes of the Pharisee about the Sabbath were in one direction; the mistakes of the Christian are in another. The Pharisee pretended to add to the holiness of the day; the Christian is too often disposed to take away from that holiness, and to keep the day in an idle, profane, irreverent manner. May we all watch our own conduct on this subject! Saving Christianity is closely bound up with Sabbath observance. May we never forget that our great aim should be to “keep the Sabbath holy” (see Exodus 20:8). Works of necessity may be done: “It is lawful to do good” (verse 12) and show mercy; but to give the Sabbath to idleness, pleasure-seeking, or the world, is utterly unlawful. It is contrary to the example of Christ, and a sin against a plain commandment of God.

    J. C. Ryle, Matthew, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 91–92.

    Q. 39. What cautions are requisite about works of necessity and mercy?

    A. That these works be real, and not pretended; that we spend as little time about them as possible; and that we endeavour to attain a holy frame of spirit while about them.

    Erskine Fisher, Fishers Catechism, n.d.

    To the family that kept Covenant with God the Sabbath came with peculiar loveliness and inspiration. On Saturday evening special preparation was made for the coming of the Lord’s Day; even the turf was piled beside the fire, the potatoes were washed and in the pot, and the water carried from the spring; “the works of necessity and mercy” were reduced to a minimum.

    McFeeters, Sketches of the Covenanters, n.d.

    If one approaches the day in that their work is servile and not a gospel ordineance, they are breaking the command; as well, one can see that the time spent should be as little as possible. In this way, abuse would cancel use.
  5. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    I'm not sure I agree that it's often abused. I think I know at least one of the occasions you're thinking of, but still, I don't see it very often. It's extremely frequent that people simply take a libertine approach to the Lord's Day and practically or explicitly deny the Westminster position. In my experience it's rare for people to claim a strict view of the Sabbath and then use the necessity and mercy clauses as an excuse to violate it. But that's beside the point.

    The issue that I see with your position is that there are necessities that are routine and not emergent and such the acts to meet them must be routine. To stick with healthcare, look at the ICU, or even a nursing home. There are 24/7 needs in these places that must be met and failing that people will suffer severely or even die. These are necessities and they are routine. In a 17th century world the only type of medical care was emergent and the patients that require routine specialized care today would have been dead. You can leave these positions to the heathens but I don't think that solves anything or gets us off the hook. If we lived in a Christian nation today we might certainly arrange things better to minimize work on the Sabbath but I think we would not be without an ICU on Sundays.

    You ask where to draw the line and that's part of the problem. It's not easy and we can quickly move beyond good and necessary consequence to do it. You and I would probably not draw the line at the same point because it's a prudential application of the law rather than a necessary consequence. I agree that, for the most part, we need to let the one working determine it unless there's evidence that the one working is not acting in good faith or it's a blatant violation (like a salesman, for instance). As others stated, this is why most discipline on the issue comes through preaching rather than censure or excommunication. The Puritans generally allowed for inns to serve food and provide lodgings on the Sabbath for travellers, for instance. Is that equivalent to a McDonalds? Not at all, but it does demonstrate that many felt that some types of relatively routine labors were allowable.

    I am not of the opinion that Christians should leave all professions that are necessarily performed on the Sabbath to the heathens. They are not excused from the 4th commandment any more than we are. If you believe that deeds of necessity should be performed for free and these needs arise in the hospital, why not volunteer to do it instead of allowing another to do it for profit and thus sin?

    Finally, works of necessity are not a gospel ordinance whether routine or emergent. They are secular rather than sacred--hence the exception. The work is still servile, though necessary.
  6. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    If a crippled person was crippled or sick for years and years, why did Jesus not wait one more day to heal them? Why did Jesus insist on healing them on the Sabbath when there are 6 other days to do this work?

    Surely we would not accuse Jesus of stretching the meaning of mercy and necessity to do something that shouldn't be done on the Sabbath.

    While works of mercy and necessity are not merely works of convenience, we also see from Christ's example that it was not life-or-death matters only that were involved. It is always a good time to do good and no need to delay if you get an opportunity.
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