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TitleKeeping the Sabbath Day Holy
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1971
AuthorsBenson, Ezra Taft
Issue Number5
Date PublishedMay 1971
KeywordsSabbath Day; Ten Commandments

“Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God” [Ex. 20:9–10]


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Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy

By Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Council of the Twelve

“Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God” [Ex. 20:9–10]

Few subjects in the great eternal plan of the Lord have been spoken of more frequently than that of the Sabbath. Ancient prophets of God have proclaimed it, and presidents of the Church and other General Authorities have repeatedly emphasized that it be kept holy. Lay Christians and men of goodwill throughout Christendom have spoken approvingly of its place and value in the lives of men, women, and children. No Latter-day Saint need stumble or be in doubt as to his duty in reference to this divine law.

I believe in honoring the Sabbath day. I love a sacred Sabbath. I am grateful that as a boy I had a constant example and sound parental counsel as to the importance of keeping the Sabbath day a holy day. I am also grateful that my beloved wife and children and grandchildren have been true to the direction of the priesthood of God in regard to the Sabbath day. My memories of the Sabbath from infancy have been joyful, uplifting, and spiritually profitable.

Men from time immemorial have recognized the need for blessed rest—time for physical and spiritual refreshment. The human body and the spirit of man require it for happy, purposeful living.

Over sixty years ago the following item from the Daily News appeared in the Liahona under the caption “The Day of Rest”:

“One of the facts upon which all men are agreed, whatever may be their view in life, is the need of a frequently recurring season of spiritual and physical refreshment. The life which was an unending vista of dusty days in the city would be a life from which we should all turn in despair. The hum of the wheels would drive the world mad. The soul would perish under the strain of material things and the body would perish with it. There is, therefore, no question of can’t in the desire to keep our Sunday: it is a supreme necessity, and never more supreme than in these days, when the pace of life is always being quickened and men are becoming more and more like the parts of a giant machine whose operations they do not understand and whose roar dulls the mind.” (Vol. 7, p. 445.)

Written at the crest of an industrial revolution, these words sound an even greater urgency in the frantic and calamitous world we now live in. And yet, in spite of our failure to live God’s sacred law, men continued to praise the Sabbath.

Henry Ward Beecher said this about Sunday: “A world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like a summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the joyous day of the whole week.” Henry W. Longfellow suggested that “Sunday is the golden clasp that binds together the volume of the week.”

Sunday is a wonderful day, but how much more wonderful might it be if honored as a sacred Sabbath. Man has tried on several occasions to change God’s law of the Sabbath, but each attempt has resulted in failure.

In the 19th century, England and France decided to observe the Sabbath only every twenty-one days in order that they might have time to build up their war-torn countries. After a trial period, however, a careful check showed that they had accomplished less total work than when they had rested every seventh day as the Lord prescribed.

The Church accepts the Sabbath as a law unto man from the beginning. Early in the Bible we read that “God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” (Gen. 2:3.)

Later, when Moses was leading the exodus in the wilderness, the Lord instructed the Israelites on how to preserve the heaven-sent manna over the Sabbath day.

“… the Lord hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” (Ex. 16:29.)

Then, with the binding authority of the decalogue, the Sabbath law was made unmistakably clear.

“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. 20:8–11.)

As Latter-day Saints, we accept Sunday as the Christian Sabbath and proclaim its sanctity. We believe that in this dispensation of the fulness of times the law of the Sabbath has been revealed and reaffirmed unto the Church.

“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.” (D&C 59:9–13.)

By direct revelation authority, the Church teaches that Sunday is the acceptable day for Sabbath observance as the Lord’s day. President Joseph Fielding Smith, commenting on the Lord’s day, said: “The Lord’s day was, of course, Sunday, and on this day the Latter-day Saints have been commanded to observe the weekly Sabbath. So far as the Latter-day Saints are concerned, the Lord has spoken. This settles the question.” (Answers to Gospel Questions, vol. 2, p. 59.)

With regard to the purposes of the Sabbath, the Lord gives the answer in the Doctrine and Covenants: “… that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, … this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High.” (D&C 59:9–10.) And as we offer our religious offerings and sacraments with thanksgiving, and confess our sins, the Lord has promised that our joy will be full and “the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;

“Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;

“Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;

“Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.

“And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.

“And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.” (D&C 59:16–21.)

The purpose of the Sabbath is for spiritual uplift, for a renewal of our covenants, for worship, for rest, for prayer. It is for the purpose of feeding the spirit, that we may keep ourselves unspotted from the world by obeying God’s command.

“The Lord’s plan is perfect,” said Elder Orson F. Whitney; “his commandments have in view the salvation of the body as well as the spirit, for it is the soul that will be redeemed from the grave and glorified. God has commanded us to care for the spirit, as well as for the body, and give it food in due season, and He set aside the Sabbath day that man might rest from his temporal labors and go to the house of the Lord and be fed with that holy influence which nourishes the spirit of man. That is why we meet together on the Sabbath day. Our spirits need their food, the same as do our bodies and if we neglect them, they will starve and dwindle and die upon the same principle that the body will die when deprived of its proper nourishment.” (“The Day of Rest,” Liahona—The Elders’ Journal, vol. 7, p. 530.)

May I suggest some activities and ideas that fit the purpose of the Sabbath.

  • Engage in activities that contribute to greater spirituality.
  • Attend essential Church meetings in the house of prayer.
  • Acquire spiritual knowledge by reading the scriptures, Church history and biographies, and the inspired words of our Church leaders.
  • Rest physically, get acquainted with your family, relate scriptural stories to your children, and bear your testimony to build family unity.
  • Visit the sick and aged shut-ins.
  • Sing the songs of Zion and listen to inspiring music.
  • Pay devotions to the Most High through prayer (personal and family), fasting, administration, and father’s blessings.
  • Prepare food with a singleness of heart: simple meals prepared largely on Saturday.
  • Remember that Sunday is the Lord’s day, a day to do his work.

In a statement from the First Presidency, we read that “the Sabbath is not just another day on which we merely rest from work, free to spend it as our light-mindedness may suggest. It is a holy day, the Lord’s Day, to be spent as a day of worship and reverence. All matters extraneous thereto should be shunned. … Latter-day Saints, with a testimony of the Gospel and a knowledge of the spiritual blessings that come from keeping the Sabbath, will never permit themselves to make it a shopping day, an activity that has no place in a proper observance of the Holy Day of the Lord, on which we are commanded to pour out our souls in gratitude for the many blessings of health, strength, physical comfort, and spiritual joy which come from the Lord’s bounteous hand.” (Church News, July 11, 1959, p. 3.)

Now, what about those activities that do not fit the spirit or purpose of the Sabbath? It seems to me that the following should be avoided on the Sabbath:

  • Overworking and staying up late Saturday so that you are exhausted the next day.
  • Filling the Sabbath so full of extra meetings that there is no time for prayer, meditation, family fellowship, and counseling.
  • Doing gardening and odd jobs around the house.
  • Taking trips to canyons or resorts, visiting friends socially, joy riding, wasting time, and engaging in other amusements. (See Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 165; Daniel H. Ludlow, Latter-day Prophets Speak, pp. 360–63.)
  • Playing vigorously and going to movies.
  • Engaging in sports and hunting “wild animals” which God made for the use of man only “in times of famine and excess of hunger.” (See D&C 89:15.) “Let the boys have their exercise. Let them have amusements at the proper time, but let them be taught better things on the Sabbath day,” said President Joseph F. Smith. (“What Shall We Do on the Sabbath Day?” Improvement Era, vol. 19, p. 864.)
  • Reading material that does not contribute to your spiritual uplift.
  • Shopping or supporting with your patronage businesses that operate on Sunday, such as grocery stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and service stations.

Here are a few helps toward a sacred Sabbath:

  • Houseclean, straighten up, refuel the car, and prepare clothing and meals in advance on Saturday.
  • Provide for recreation and amusements during the week and provide for a holiday during the week, if possible.
  • Get a good rest on Saturday night.

Students should study their school subjects during the week and keep the Sabbath sacred.

Businesses that close on Sunday can succeed, and one successful restauranteur told why in a recent letter:

“You will note a number of reasons why I have closed my place of business on Sunday:

“1. The foremost reason, it was a commandment of the Lord that we wanted to obey.

“2. I did not feel that I wanted to ask thirty or forty fine people to break the Sabbath every week. …

“3. We had young children whom we wanted to teach the importance of keeping the Sabbath day holy. …

“4. The year we closed our business on Sunday we made more money than any previous year. …

“5. It is my testimony that the Lord has blessed us over the years and that we are far better off financially and spiritually than we ever would have been had we remained open on Sunday.

“6. I am so sure the Lord has blessed us that I would not dare open our place of business on Sunday. It is my firm conviction that if I open my place on Sunday and stop paying an honest tithing, I will be broke in one year.

“I have a firm conviction that the greatest guarantee for success in business for a Latter-day Saint is to honor the Sabbath day as the Lord has commanded. I would be glad to bear this testimony to anyone any time.”

What are the consequences of disobedience in keeping the Sabbath day holy? Our spiritual natures, needing spiritual food, shrink and die without it. Physical deterioration also results. “Let us, therefore, in the midst of our worldly callings and associations,” said President Joseph F. Smith, “not forget that paramount duty which we owe to ourselves and to our God.” (In Juvenile Instructor, March 1912, p. 145; see also Neh. 13:15–22 and Isa. 58:13–14.)

President George Albert Smith said, “… that much of the sorrow and distress that is afflicting and will continue to afflict mankind is traceable to the fact that they have ignored his [God’s] admonition to keep the Sabbath day holy.” (Conference Report, October 1935, p. 120.)

What are the consequences of obedience to this divine law? Spiritually it will help us “keep ourselves unspotted from the world.” Temporally, “the fulness of the earth” will be ours. All this is possible if we cheerfully keep this divine law.

Scripture Reference

Exodus 20:9-10