One autumn I was assigned to a stake conference in a rural area of the Western United States. I arrived on Saturday evening and remained with the stake president and his family overnight. In the morning we started our journey of five or six miles to the meetinghouse, and on our way we passed several farms. It was apparent that the Sabbath day was being observed by the people.
We saw beautiful fields of ripened wheat with machinery standing in the fields just as it had been left the evening before. We saw haystacks partly built, with more hay resting in the fields waiting to be brought in. Some of the grain was harvested and some was yet in the field. The very land seemed to be at rest.
We entered the village, and there too we found a scene of peace and serenity. There was no sound of hammer, machinery, or work of any kind. Instead, we saw people gathering to the chapel from all directions in the valley.
I remarked to the stake president about this unusual sight and inquired whether the home teachers had canvassed the stake and warned the people that a visitor was coming from Salt Lake. “No,” he said, “we’re very pleased with the way our people observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Nearly every family in the stake is represented at our meetings every Sunday.” The records upheld his word.
It was a beautiful day—quiet, a soft breeze blowing, warm and pleasant. The hills in the distance were turning to their autumn colors. There were beautiful farms and fields, lovely homes, and a sweet spirit of contentment. The meetings and councils of that day were remarkably peaceful, productive, and satisfying.
In contrast, while attending another stake conference in a different community, I was awakened very early Sunday morning by considerable noise. I discovered it was caused by a number of men dressed in hunting clothes and carrying rifles. They were going to the mountains and canyons to hunt deer.
Another Sabbath I drove through an agricultural area and saw many mowing machines and machines to bale hay and perspiring men in the fields engaged in harvesting the hay crop.
Still another Sabbath I noticed long lines of people standing and waiting their turn to get into motion picture shows and others obviously on their way to the beach or canyon with picnic baskets and athletic equipment.
We have become largely a world of Sabbath breakers. On the Sabbath the lakes are full of boats, the beaches are crowded, the shows have their best attendance, the golf links are dotted with players. The Sabbath is the preferred day for rodeos, conventions, family picnics; even ball games are played on the sacred day. “Business as usual” is the slogan for many, and our holy day has become a holiday. And because so many people treat the day as a holiday, numerous others cater to the wants of the fun-lovers and money-makers.
To many, Sabbath-breaking is not important, but to our Heavenly Father it is disobedience to one of the principal commandments. Moses came down from the quaking, smoking Mount Sinai and brought to the wandering children of Israel the Ten Commandments, which are fundamental rules for the conduct of life. These commandments, however, were not new. They had been known to Adam and his posterity, who had been commanded to live them from the beginning, and were merely reiterated by the Lord to Moses. These commandments even antedated earth life and were part of the test for mortals established in the council in heaven “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abr. 3:25.)
The first of the Ten Commandments requires that men worship the Lord; the fourth designates a Sabbath day especially for such worship:
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me. …
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
“Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
“But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Ex. 20:3, 8–11.)
The solemn command brought down from the thundering of Mount Sinai was “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” That commandment has never been rescinded nor modified. Instead, it has been reinforced in modern times: “But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.
“And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that … thy joy may be full.” (D&C 59:12–13.)
To hunt and fish on the Lord’s day is not keeping it holy. To plant or cultivate or harvest crops on the Sabbath is not keeping holy the Lord’s day. To go into the canyons for picnics, to attend games or rodeos or races or shows or other amusements on that day is not to keep it in holy remembrance.
Strange as it may seem, some Latter-day Saints, faithful in all other respects, justify themselves in missing their church meetings on occasion for recreational purposes, feeling that the best fishing will be missed if one is not at the stream Sunday or that the vacation will not be long enough if one does not set off on Sunday or that one will miss a movie he wanted to see if he does not go on the Sabbath. And in their breach of the Sabbath they often take their families with them.
The Savior said: “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:19.)
There is no criticism of legitimate recreation—sports, picnics, plays, and motion pictures. All have potential for revitalizing life, and the Church as an organization actively sponsors such activities. But there is a proper time and place for all worthwhile things—a time for work, a time for play, a time for worship.
Sometimes Sabbath observance is characterized as a matter of sacrifice and self-denial, but it is not so. It is merely a matter of scheduling and choosing seasons. There is time enough, particularly in our era of the world’s history, during the six days of the week in which to do our work and play. Much can be done to organize and encourage weekday activities, avoiding the Sabbath.
A Scout council was accustomed to arranging its summer camp schedule so that the Scouts were moving to the camp on one Sabbath and returning home from camp on the next Sabbath. Latter-day Saint youth were being deprived of religious activities for two successive Sundays. A friendly suggestion to the council authorities brought about a change, so that the camp period ran from Friday to Friday. The Sunday in between was planned so that there were religious services offered for the boys who were in the camp.
A seminary group planned a service in the mountains on Sunday. They felt justified in the excursion since they had planned a testimony meeting as part of the day’s activities. They did have their meeting and enjoyed a spiritual hour together, but after that hour the day became a day for picnicking, games, hiking, and climbing, with no further thought of the Sabbath. The one hour of devotion did not make of that day a holy day.
The purpose of the commandment is not to deprive man of something. Every commandment that God has given to his servants is for the benefit of those who receive and obey it. Man profits by the careful and strict observance of the Sabbath, man also suffers by the breaking of the laws of God.
The commandment has its negative side; that on the Sabbath “thou shalt not do any work,” but it also has its positive aspect. On that day “thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments … to pay thy devotions unto the Most High … with cheerful hearts and countenances.” (D&C 59:9–10, 15.)
The Sabbath is not a day for indolent lounging about the house or puttering around in the garden, but is a day for consistent attendance at meetings for the worship of the Lord, learning and instruction, enjoying the family, and finding uplift in music and song.
The Sabbath is a holy day in which to do worthy and holy things. Abstinence from work and recreation is important, but insufficient. The Sabbath calls for constructive thoughts and acts, and if one merely lounges about doing nothing on the Sabbath, he is breaking it. To observe it, one will be on his knees in prayer, preparing lessons, studying the gospel, meditating, visiting the ill and distressed, writing letters to missionaries, taking a nap, reading wholesome material, and attending all the meetings of that day at which he is expected.
One good but mistaken man I know claimed he could get more out of a good book on Sunday than he could get in attending church services, saying that the sermons were hardly up to his standards. But we do not go to Sabbath meetings to be entertained or even solely to be instructed. We go to worship the Lord. It is an individual responsibility, and regardless of what is said from the pulpit, if one wishes to worship the Lord in spirit and truth, he may do so by attending his meetings, partaking of the sacrament, and contemplating the beauties of the gospel. If the service is a failure to you, you have failed. No one can worship for you; you must do your own worshiping of the Lord.
With respect to this commandment, among the others, let us follow the prophet Joshua: “Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: … choose you this day whom ye will serve; … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh. 24:14–15.)
Then we can hope for the blessings promised the children of Israel: “Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.
“If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them;
“Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.
“And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.
“And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid.” (Lev. 26:2–6.)
Many industries have processes which it is said, cannot be interrupted for the Sabbath—in those industries the workers “must work” on Sunday. This may be true. But “necessity is the mother of invention,” and I have often wondered how long it would take to invent new methods of production, which would not require Sunday work, if everyone in a particular industry simply decided to keep the Sabbath day holy.
The Savior knew that the ox falls in the mire, and one must pull the ox from the mire when necessary. But no one deliberately puts the ox in the mire every week, or lets him get in the mire with no effort to keep him out.
It is true that some people must work on the Sabbath. And, in fact, some of the work that is truly necessary—caring for the sick, for example—may actually serve to hallow the Sabbath. However, in such activities our motives are a most important consideration.
When men and women are willing to work on the Sabbath to increase their wealth, they are breaking the commandments; for money taken in on the Sabbath, if the work is unnecessary, is unclean money. Can you imagine a person laboring on the Sabbath in defiance of the Lord’s command, and then bringing a tithe or other portion of the ill-gained fruits of this labor to Him as an offering? Just as in Old Testament times, offerings presented to the Lord must be “without blemish,” and unnecessary Sabbath-day earnings can never be such.
Sabbath-breakers, also are those people who buy commodities or entertainment on the Sabbath, thus encouraging pleasure palaces and business establishments to remain open—which they otherwise would not do. If we buy, sell, trade, or support such on the Lord’s day we are as rebellious as the children of Israel, the dire consequences of whose transgressions against this and other commandments should be a permanent warning to us all.
Although the ancient laws in Israel prescribed swift and severe punishment for people who violated the Sabbath, we cannot assume that the law was more important in those days than now.
The importance of honoring the Sabbath was reiterated in our day to the Prophet Joseph Smith in revelation from the Lord:
“And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.” (D&C 59:9.)
It should be noted that this is a “thou shalt” command.
“For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;
“Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times;
“But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.
“And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.” (D&C 59:10–13.)
Note here that while the Lord lays stress upon the importance of the Sabbath day and its proper observance, he requires of his people “righteousness on all days and at all times.”
In my travels I find faithful people who forego Sabbath day profits and the handling of forbidden things. I have found cattlemen who have no roundup on the Sabbath; fruit stands along the roadside, generally open day and night through the fruit season, closed on the Sabbath; drug stores, eating houses, and wayside stands closed on the Lord’s day—and the owners seem to get along, at the same time taking genuine satisfaction in abiding by the law. And every time I see good folk foregoing these kinds of earnings, I rejoice and feel within my heart to bless them for their faith and steadfastness.
The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “If thou turn away … from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
“Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” (Isa. 58:13–14.)