"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light..."

What can we do on the Sabbath?

by Joseph Fielding Smith

"Question: What can we do on the Sabbath? The opinion of the class as to keeping the Sabbath day holy seems to be quite negative. To the teenagers, reading or visiting all day constitutes nothing but boredom. We often hear that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, so it is not hard to see where the idea that what is rest for the individual is keeping the Sabbath day holy. In other words, one who does manual labor all week deserves physical rest on Sunday; one who works in mental labor should be able to get out and stretch his bones on Sunday. Is this true? Is it wrong to take rides on Sunday? What of the watching of TV on Sunday? What are some of the things we can do on Sunday?"

Answer: The observance of the Sabbath day is one of the great commandments of the Decalogue. It is well to repeat it here as it was given to ancient Israel; also as it has been given to modern Israel in our dispensation.

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. (Exodus 20:8-11.)

This commandment is quite definite and in this dispensation the Lord gave further instruction as follows:

Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things. Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. 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; 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. Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer. (D. & C. 59:7-14.)


There is much more said in relation to this subject, but this will suffice for our purpose. Here the Lord speaks emphatically, but kindly. There must be great blessings awaiting those who have faith and integrity enough to obey this counsel. The faithful members of the Church who keep the first great commandment--to love God--never find any commandment from him unfruitful or difficult to keep. The Lord has never given a commandment to the members of the Church, or to the world, except it has been given for the everlasting welfare and blessing for all who obey it. Every commandment given has to do with spiritual things. The Lord declared that never at any time has he given unto man a law which is temporal in its nature. Although we fail to see it, every commandment has a spiritual application. This is definitely so in relation to the observance of the Sabbath day.

It is very natural for children to ask why they should obey the law of the Sabbath as the Lord has proclaimed it. They are indeed worthy of an answer. This I shall endeavor to supply.

If we had sufficient faith and humility, we would be willing to follow the commandments of the Lord, not only in relation to the Sabbath, but also every other commandment he has given. Even the young children should have this faith impressed upon them, and by skilful teaching in the home it will be developed. The Lord has given us six days of each week in which we can work and earn our living and in these days most of us, and especially children, can and do find time for some amusement and relaxation. The demands upon the time of working men and likewise professional men, seldom, if ever, require all of the time during these six days without any hours for relaxation and amusement. School children have one day free out of the six, and each school day leaves some period for relaxation. The athletics, playing of games, and other amusements that they engage in indicate that the entire time of the six days is seldom occupied without some hours free. Most businessmen and professional men can find time for golf or fishing and hunting; and they do not need the Sunday to "stretch their bones," in sports and other entertainment. Some working men today work only five days a week, yet they have formed the habit of taking the Sabbath for additional time for leisure and amusement. There are very few exceptions where no free time can be found. Most of us, if we would consider carefully the time that we have free, will discover that there are free moments when we could improve our minds by study and the reading of good books.


These six days give ample time for men to care for the temporal needs of their bodies, to clothe and feed themselves and their dependents, and the Lord has asked us to take the seventh, or Sabbath, to feed the spirit. The great majority of men and children today are not content to take only the six days for the purposes of the physical needs of the body and are starving their spirits. If we go without food, we get hungry; if we go without sleep, we get weary and ill; but we seldom think that the starving of the spirit is anything that should worry us. When we do this, we feel no pain, no misery, unless it is that our conscience troubles us. If we persist in the violation of the Sabbath day, the time comes when our conscience becomes seared, and we fail to heed its warnings or its call for spiritual food. Surely it is not unreasonable for us to be commanded to obey the Sabbath when the Lord has given us six-sevenths of our time for all temporal purposes.

Children need to feed the spirit as well as adults do, and surely the man or the woman who obeys the will of the Lord feels better and has more claim upon the blessings of the Lord than does the rebellious brother or sister. It has been demonstrated many times by those who have forsaken the seventh day for business and have given it to the service of the Lord as he has required, that they have prospered. They testify that they have been more abundantly blessed in their temporal affairs as well as in spiritual needs. Did not the Lord say through Malachi that he would bless us abundantly if we would keep his commandments? (Malachi 3:16-19.) Surely his promises do not fail.

It is true the Sabbath day was not given to man just as a whim and to please the Lord, or to take away from man the opportunity to do what he is wont to do on the six days of the week. He did it because it is for man's good. The spirit calls for it. One day out of seven is essential for the spiritual feeding of both spirit and body. Learning the things of the kingdom of God is essential to our eternal existence. Thus we are guided in our progress towards perfection in the kingdom of God. Surely, for our own eternal good, we should be willing to devote one-seventh of our time in religious study and reflection, and as the Lord has pointed out, lay aside our daily occupations and obtain rest from such labors and pay our devotion to the Most High in the house of prayer in the spirit of fasting that our joy may be full.


As things are today, none of us gives too much time to the development of our spiritual natures. The Latter-day Saints are not burdened with knowledge concerning the fundamental principles of the gospel. It behooves us, one and all, to give more diligent heed to these things. As early as September 1882, the Lord said to the Church:

And I now give unto you a commandment to beware concerning yourselves, to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life. For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God. For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ. (D. & C. 84:43-45.)

It is true that small children wonder why they are not to play, go to picture shows, and engage in other amusement on the Sabbath day. Here is a duty devolving on the parents who can furnish the amusement and at the same time enlighten themselves as well as their children by the right kind of instruction. This instruction can be found in stories taken from the scriptures, the history of the Church, biographies of the brethren who performed wonderful work in the early days of the Church. Thus the Sabbath day can be made attractive during the hours between Sunday School and the sacrament meeting in the evening. In this way pitfalls of the picture shows and the other unwholesome amusements will be avoided. You ask if it is wrong to take rides on the Sabbath, to view television and listen to the radio. Certainly it is not in harmony with the day to view shows on crime and scenes of murder, banditry, and other things contrary to the spirit of the gospel; and it must be admitted that these dominate the picture shows. So far as my practice is concerned, the radio and television are not turned on in the home on the Sabbath day, except it be to listen to religious sermons or other programs sponsored by the Church. We never go automobile riding on the Sabbath except in the line of religious duty and appointment.


One of the charges the Lord brought against Israel which brought upon them their punishment and dispersion from the land of Israel, was in large measure the fact that the law of the Sabbath had been broken. Ezekiel by the voice of the Lord said to them at the time of the Jewish captivity--

I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God. Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my sabbaths: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness. Nevertheless I withdrew mine hand, and wrought for my name's sake, that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen, in whose sight I brought them forth. I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries; Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers' idols. (Ezekiel 20:19-24.)


President Joseph F. Smith once wrote to two of his daughters who were in the east attending college in answer to a letter from them in which they asked him a similar question to the one asked here. In the letter he said after quoting Exodus 20:8-11:

All things should be done with prudence and in moderation. This is the command. It is binding upon us. There are sound religious reasons for it and physiological reasons not less sound. Indeed it is a physical as well as a divine law. Those who heed it will reap the reward of obedience to divine law, and enjoy the benefits of the physical law. It is not less needful to the human being than sleep--although not so speedily felt. No one can live without sleep, neither can one survive long without rest. The result of sleep is no more potential to prolongation of life than the Sabbath rest, although we may survive longer without the latter than the former, speaking from a physical point of view. From a spiritual point of view the wilful violation of the law of Sabbath rest is as deadly to moral growth and faith, as is the sleepless eye to the mortal being. But the great point is, God has said it and not for his own but for man's well being; he therefore should obey. If he does not he will have to abide the consequences both temporal and spiritual to himself…. To those who love human pleasures and pursue them, the duties of life, the essential parts of life, are irksome, dry, pleasureless, seemingly valueless. But their pleasure will fade away, and their joy will perish and leave them but the ashes of their treasure, with hopeless regrets. Honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy; and you will know more about it. (Conference Report, October 1938, pp. 38-39.)


On another occasion President Joseph F. Smith said:

To observe the Sabbath day properly is the plain duty of every Latter-day Saint--and that includes the young men and the young women and the boys and girls. It may seem strange that it should be necessary to repeat this often-asserted fact; but there appear to be some people, and sometimes whole communities, who neglect this duty, and therefore stand in need of his admonition.

What are we required to do on the Sabbath day? The revelations of the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith are very plain on this subject, and these should govern us, for they are in strict harmony with the teachings of the Savior. Here are some of the simple requirements:

The Sabbath is appointed unto you to rest from your labors. The Sabbath is a special day for you to worship, to pray, and to show zeal and ardor in your religious faith and duty--to pay devotions to the Most High.

The Sabbath day is a day when you are required to offer your time and attention in worship of the Lord, whether in meeting, in the home, or wherever you may be--that is the thought that should occupy your mind….

The Lord is not pleased with people who know these things and do them not….

Men are not showing zeal and ardor in their religious faith and duty when they hustle off early Sunday morning in cars, in teams, in automobiles, to the canyons, the resorts, and to visit friends or places of amusement with their wives and children. They are not paying their devotions in this way to the Most High. (Ibid., October 1935, p. 15.)

(See Daily Living home page; Teachings About the Sabbath home page)



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