My Come, Follow Me studies this week took me to Doctrine and Covenants 59. This revelation was received on Sunday, August 7, 1831, in Jackson County, Missouri. This revelation contained the Lord’s instructions for His expectations for the Saints, including proper Sabbath day observance. The Lord also confirmed that the people who obey His commandments will be blessed both temporally and spiritually. The Doctrine and Covenants student manual contains the following information.
During the summer of 1831, as Church members settled in Jackson County, Missouri, they encountered a frontier community whose conduct sharply contrasted with the laws and standards of the gospel. Gambling, drinking, and violence were prevalent among the residents, some of whom had come to the Missouri frontier to avoid the justice of the law. These residents also had a blatant disregard for the Sabbath day that was noticed not only by the Saints but by other travelers who came to Missouri. One Protestant missionary observed: “Christian Sabbath observance here appears to be unknown. It is a day for merchandising, jollity, drinking, gambling, and general anti-Christian conduct” (in T. Edgar Lyon, “Independence, Missouri, and the Mormons, 1827-1833,” BYU Studies, vol. 13, no. 1 , 16). A traveler passing through western Missouri in 1833 observed that “the only indications of its being Sunday [were] the unusual Gambling & noise & assemblies around taverns” (Edward Ellsworth, in John Tret Irving Jr., Indian Sketches: Taken during an Expedition to the Pawnee Tribes (1833), ed. John Francis McDermott, new ed. , xxii). In this environment the Lord outlined standards of conduct for those Saints gathering to Zion.
When the Savior prayed for His disciples during His final hours of mortality, He prayed that the Father would not take them “out of the world” but “keep them from the evil” (John 17:15). The Savior taught the same idea nearly two thousand years later to His Saints when they moved to Missouri sought to live among lawless and profane people. These were the circumstances when the Lord revealed what later became Doctrine and Covenants 59:9-13.
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;
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.
There are several topics for discussion found in those five verses. Referencing verse 9, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how honoring the Sabbath day helps keep us unspotted from the world: “Honoring the Sabbath is a form of righteousness that will bless and strengthen families, connect us with our Creator, and increase happiness. The Sabbath can help separate us from that which is frivolous, inappropriate, or immoral. It allows us to be in the world but not of the world” (“Shipshape and Bristol Fashion: Be Temple Worthy – in Good Times and Bad Times,” Ensign, Nov. 2015, 41-42).
Also referencing verse 9, Elder Jeffrey R Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the importance of the statement “Offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day” (verse 9). He explained that “a sacrament could be any one of a number of gestures or acts or ordinances that unite us with God and his limitless powers” (“Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments,” in Jeffrey R. Holland and Patricia T. Holland, On Earth As It Is in Heaven , 193). Some acts that unite us with God or bring us closer to Him and bring us His power include praying, singing hymns, giving and receiving priesthood blessings, sharing testimonies, studying the scriptures, giving service, and renewing covenants through the partaking of the sacrament.
In verse 10, the Lord commands His Saints to “rest from your labors.” This means that the Lord wants us to rest from the rigors of our daily labors, the work that consumes our time during the week – such as farming, gardening, school assignments, and office or retail work. It is a day to rest our physical bodies and to renew our spirits.
President James E. Faust (1920-2007) of the First Presidency highlighted some of the blessings that come from resting from our labors on the Sabbath day:
Over a lifetime of observation, it is clear to me that the farmer who observes the Sabbath day seems to get more done on his farm that he would if he worked seven days. The mechanic will be able to turn out more and better products in six days than in seven. The doctor, the lawyer, the dentist, the scientist will accomplish more by trying to rest on the Sabbath than if he tries to utilize every day of the week for his professional work. 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.) (“The Lord’s Day,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 34).
What does it mean to “pay thy devotions unto the Most High” (verse 10)? This means that we will remember, worship, and serve the Lord with all our heart, mind, might, and strength. Our devotions to God reflect our feelings for Him. President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
How do we hallow the Sabbath Day? In my much younger years, I studied the work of others who had compiled lists of things to do and things not to do on the Sabbath. It wasn’t until later that I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father. With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, “What sign do I want to give to God? That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear….
How can you ensure that your behavior on the Sabbath will lead to joy and rejoicing? In addition to your going to church, partaking of the sacrament, and being diligent in your specific call to serve, what other activities would help to make the Sabbath a delight for you? What sign will you give to the Lord to show your love for Him? (“The Sabbath Is a Delight,” Ensign, May 2015, 130).
Even though the Sabbath day is hallowed as a day to rest from our labors, it is not an invitation for us to be lazy. The Lord explained that the Saints were to “offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins” (verse 12). He also explained that the Saints should prepare simple meals rather than extravagant feasts. President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) taught: “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” (Teaching of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball , 170).