As a people we face two great challenges, Satan’s deceptions are becoming increasingly subtle and difficult to identify, and as members of the Lord’s Church more and more of us are drifting into worldly practices that rob us of the Spirit we need to identify Satan’s deceptions. To remain unspotted from the sins of the world requires a conscious effort on our part.
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have deliberated over how best to help us defend ourselves and actually thrive in our current environment. Their answer is to go back to the basics. As a people, we need to relearn how to better keep the Sabbath day. The Lord’s promises are both specific and vague about the blessings involved and the method required to keep the Sabbath holy. The Lord is vague in His instructions and in His promises because there is so much of the Spirit that is required to teach us how to keep the day holy. And the range of blessings open to us when we do keep the day correctly is so vast that they cannot all be mentioned within a couple verses of scripture.
I would like to start from the beginning, in Genesis, move on to the Doctrine and Covenants then use two talks by Elders Tingey and Faust to cover key ideas about keeping the Sabbath holy. We are each keeping the Sabbath holy in some respects, and violating the Sabbath in others. None of us are perfect in our knowledge or practice of how we observe this day, so please listen carefully to what the scriptures and the Brethren have to say so you can identify those places where you can personally improve. We each need to work on different aspects of this commandment.
In the beginning
In Genesis 2:1-3 we find the first reference to the Sabbath, the day of rest.
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
When something is justified that means it is existing within the laws God has set and is in harmony with those laws. When God sanctifies something He purifies and exalts it. He changes its nature to something higher and more refined than what it was. This is what God did with the Sabbath. “God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it.” As we learn how to keep the Sabbath day holy we too not only will be justified before the law for keeping this commandment, but we too will be sanctified, refined and exalted for doing so.
Modern instruction and promises
In D&C 59 the Lord reveals to Joseph Smith how the Saints should keep the Sabbath day. He gives them a series of basic commandments, which will bring them happiness, but then gives them the key to even greater happiness. Let’s look at D&C 59.
9 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;
The Lord has given a short list of commandments to the Saints in the earlier verses of this section. Now we are being told that if we really want to prevent ourselves from being tainted by the world’s ways, this is what we need to do. We need to go to Church and honor the covenants we made at baptism. He then goes on to explain why we are going to Church and how we are supposed to behave on the Sabbath day.
10 For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;
11 Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times;
12 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.
13 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.
14 Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer.
Okay, there is a lot in there, but the key point is this: if we dedicate this day solely to the worship of our God then our fasting will become perfect, or, in other words, our joy will become full.
Why the Sabbath?
So why do we need a Sabbath day, a day that is dedicated solely to the worship of our God? Isn’t it enough that we take a break from work once a week? Why do we have to focus on worshipful activities?
The Sabbath is sort of like a parent telling a child to go to bed. The child may not know why it is necessary, may not think it is important, may think the rule is stupid and unfair. The parent knows how important proper rest is for their child, and insists on sufficient sleep because they have seen the results of insufficient rest in people’s lives and want to protect their child from those negative results.
The Lord never gives us a purely physical commandment. All commandments to God are spiritual. If they have a physical benefit, great, but their main purpose is to sanctify His children. Of all the commandments given to us by our Father in Heaven, there is no commandment mentioned more often in the scriptures than that of keeping the Sabbath day holy. That should be our first clue as to its importance in the eyes of God. So what are some concerns about how we keep this day holy? Is there anything specifically that the Saints are doing to violate this day for which we need to repent?
There is a children’s song #196 called Saturday which is probably not sung or talked about as often as it should be.
Saturday is a special day.
It’s the day we get ready for Sunday:
We clean the house, and we shop at the store,
So we won’t have to work until Monday.
We brush our clothes, and we shine our shoes,
And we call it our get-the-work-done day.
Then we trim our nails, and we shampoo our hair,
So we can be ready for Sunday!
Elder Tingey, in a Conference talk on the Sabbath day said this:
President Gordon B. Hinckley expressed concern that members of the Church may have a tendency to take on the ways of the world. He said: “We don’t adopt them immediately, but we slowly take them on, unfortunately. I wish I had the power to convert this whole Church to the observance of the Sabbath. I know our people would be more richly blessed of the Lord if they would walk in faithfulness in the observance of the Sabbath.” …
President Hinckley continued with the following instruction to priesthood leaders: “There isn’t anybody in this Church who has to buy furniture on Sunday. There really isn’t. There isn’t anybody in this Church who has to buy a new automobile on Sunday, is there? No. There isn’t anybody in this Church who, with a little care and planning, has to buy groceries on Sunday. No. … You don’t need ice cream to be bought on Sunday. … You don’t need to make Sunday a day of merchandising. … I don’t think we need to patronize the ordinary business merchants on the Sabbath day. Why do they stay open? To get customers. Who are those customers? Well, they are not all nonmembers of this Church. You know that and I know that.” …
Brothers and Sisters, let’s not shop on Sunday. One way we avoid this is by planning ahead. Fill up the gas tank on Saturday. Acquire the needed groceries for the weekend on Saturday. Don’t you be the means of causing someone to work on Sunday because you patronize their establishment. Of course, we know that there are essential businesses that must be open on Sunday. These are emergency, medical, transportation, and some forms of protective services, such as police and fire. We are grateful for those persons who staff these essential public establishments and afford us protection and comfort. …
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are a covenant people. We know we live in the world, but we are taught to not be of the world. Like ancient Israel, who also was a covenant people, we should encourage the proper observance of the Sabbath day by not shopping on Sunday. Let this become a sign with our God by which we shall be known. …
What are the promises and blessings of the Lord to those who honor the Sabbath day by not shopping on Sunday? The 59th section of the Doctrine and Covenants and the 26th chapter of Leviticus, in the Old Testament, give similar promises: The fulness of the earth is yours, the land will be blessed with rain and will yield its increase; there will be peace in the land, and God will magnify His faithful people, have respect for them, and establish His covenant with them.
As another blessing, and a warning, I think of the counsel of President George Albert Smith, when he said, “Much of the sorrow and distress that is afflicting … mankind is traceable to the fact that they have ignored his [God’s] admonition to keep the Sabbath day holy.”
Remember when I said that keeping the Sabbath day holy is sort of like going to bed when our parent tells us to? How does keeping a worshipful attitude on Sunday bless the land with rain so it yields its bounty? How does it make it so that God magnifies His faithful people and has respect for them? I don’t know, but remember the Lord sanctified this day. It is the only day to receive this blessing. We are to be worshipful and respectful of the Lord and His commandments on every day of the week, but especially so on Sunday. Just because we don’t understand how it works doesn’t mean that it won’t work. The Lord always keeps His promises.
Elder Faust also gave a Conference talk on the Sabbath. He opened the talk with a story about how strict his grandfather was about keeping the Sabbath holy. He would not even allow the family to start the car on Sunday. They had to walk everywhere.
By today’s standards, perhaps Grandfather’s interpretation of Sabbath day activities seems extreme, but something wonderful has been lost in our lives. To this day, I have been pondering to try to understand fully what has slipped away. Part of it was knowing that I was well on the Lord’s side of the line. Another part was the feeling that Satan’s influence was farther away. Mostly it was the reinforcement received by the spiritual power which was generated. We had the rich feeling that the spiritual “fulness of the earth” (D&C 59:16) was ours, as promised by the Lord in section 59 of the Doctrine and Covenants. …
In biblical times this commandment to rest and worship was so strict that a violation of it called for the death penalty. (See Ex. 31:15.) Even the earth was given a sabbath rest: “But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the Lord: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.” (Lev. 25:4.)
The Sabbath was referred to in the Old Testament days as a blessed and hallowed day (see Ex. 20:11), as a symbol of a perpetual covenant of faithfulness (see Ex. 31:16), as a holy convocation (see Lev. 23:3), as a day of spiritual celebration (see Lev. 23:32). …
President Spencer W. Kimball gave excellent counsel on Sabbath day observance. He said:
“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, sleeping, reading wholesome material, and attending all the meetings of that day to which he is expected. To fail to do these proper things is a transgression on the omission side.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969, pp. 96–97.) …
I would counsel all students, if they can, to arrange their schedules so that they do not study on the Sabbath. If students and other seekers after truth will do this, their minds will be quickened and the infinite Spirit will lead them to the verities they wish to learn. This is because God has hallowed his day and blessed it as a perpetual covenant of faithfulness. (See Ex. 31:16.) …
On February 1, 1980, when the First Presidency announced the consolidated Sunday meeting schedule, the following counsel was given: “A greater responsibility will be placed upon the individual members and families for properly observing the Sabbath day. More time will be available for personal study of the scriptures and family-centered gospel study.
“Other appropriate Sabbath activities, such as strengthening family ties, visiting the sick and the homebound, giving service to others, writing personal and family histories, genealogical work, and missionary work, should be carefully planned and carried out. …
Why has God asked us to honor the Sabbath day? The reasons I think are at least threefold. The first has to do with the physical need for rest and renewing. …
The second reason is, in my opinion, of far greater significance. It has to do with the need for regeneration and the strengthening of our spiritual being. …
The third reason may be the most important of the three. It has to do with obedience to commandments as an expression of our love for God. …
We stand in jeopardy of losing great blessings promised. After all, it is a test by which the Lord seeks to “prove you in all things” (D&C 98:14) to see if your devotion is complete. …
What is worthy or unworthy on the Sabbath day will have to be judged by each of us by trying to be honest with the Lord. On the Sabbath day we should do what we have to do and what we ought to do in an attitude of worshipfulness and then limit our other activities.
Keeping the Sabbath day holy is a deeply personal thing. Some things we have been told are does and don’ts, like going to Church and not shopping on Sunday. But most of what happens on Sunday is personal between each of us and the Lord. The more we learn to carry a reverent spirit of worship in our hearts, the closer we will be to doing it right. Practice, it takes practice. Keeping the Sabbath day holy is something that will take us years to learn how to do properly, but the better we get at it, the more refined and sanctified we will become, and the more unspotted from the ways of the world.
This is the High Council talk I gave for the month of September 2015 in the Laie, Hawaii Stake.