“Chapter 12: The Sabbath Is a Holy Day,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor (2011), 106–16
“Chapter 12,” Teachings: John Taylor, 106–16
As mentioned in the previous chapter, beginning in late June 1847, Elders John Taylor and Parley P. Pratt led a group of more than 1,500 Saints from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley. Describing the beginning of this journey, Elder B. H. Roberts wrote:
“It was late in the season for starting on such an expedition. It was too late for them to put in crops that season, even if they stopped far short of the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains. They barely had provisions to last them a year and a half, and if their first crop failed, starvation must follow, for they would be from ten to fifteen hundred miles from the nearest point where food could be obtained. …
“They had their all upon the altar, including their wives and children, who must share their hardships and their fate. They knew not their destination, they entrusted all on a single venture, from which there was no chance of retreat. If they should fail to find a suitable location and raise a crop the first season, there was no getting provisions to them, nor them to provisions. They must succeed, or perish in the wilderness to which they had started.”
In spite of these perilous circumstances and the need to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley before the onset of winter, travel was halted each Sunday for observance of the Sabbath day. Elder Roberts continued, “Sunday was observed as a day of rest, religious services were held in each camp, and the stillness of the great wilderness of the west was broken by Saints singing the songs of Zion.” On 5 October 1847, the Taylor and Pratt companies safely arrived in the Salt Lake Valley and began the necessary preparations for winter.2
For President John Taylor, the Sabbath was a day of worship, rest, and thoughtful recollection. He encouraged the Saints to “keep the Sabbath day holy, set it aside as a day of rest, a day of meeting together to perform your sacraments and listen to the words of life, and thus be found keeping the commandments, and setting a good example before your children.”3
The best of us are not too good; we all of us might be better, and do better and enjoy life better, having more of the Spirit of the Lord in our own homes and in our own hearts, and do more to promote the welfare of all who come within our reach and influence. To serve the Lord is one of the great objects of our existence; and I appreciate as a great privilege the opportunity we enjoy of worshiping God on the Sabbath day. And when we do meet to worship God, I like to see us worship him with all our hearts. I think it altogether out of place on such occasions to hear people talk about secular things; these are times, above all others perhaps, when our feelings and affections should be drawn out towards God. If we sing praises to God, let us do it in the proper spirit; if we pray, let every soul be engaged in prayer, doing it with all our hearts, that through our union our spirits may be blended in one, that our prayers and our worship may be available with God, whose Spirit permeates all things, and is always present in the assemblies of good and faithful Saints.
I will tell you how I feel on a Sabbath morning. I realize this is a day set apart to worship Almighty God: now I ought to worship God myself, and I ought to look after my family and discover whether they are engaged in the same thing or not. For we are commanded to keep holy the Sabbath day and to rest from all our labors, as God did when He created the earth upon which we dwell. He has given us six days to attend to the various labors and duties of life, and if we [undertake] to keep the Sabbath, let us do it acceptably to God our Father, dedicating ourselves to him at least, for that day, and placing our feelings and affections upon him. And then, the Elders of Israel throughout the broad earth are engaged this day in trying to teach the principles of salvation, and I feel like praying for them, and also for our missionaries who are going abroad among the Saints in this land, as well those who speak, as those who dictate in the assemblies of the Saints in this land and in all other lands, that as this is a day set apart for the worship of God, all Israel everywhere may be under the influence and guidance of the Spirit of the living God, and that those especially who speak may be under the divine influence of the Holy Ghost, and present to the various congregations the words of eternal life.4
It is pleasant for the Saints to meet together to commune with each other, to listen to the words of life, to reflect also upon their position and relationship to God, to His Church and Kingdom, as well as to examine into their own feelings, and, under the guidance of the Lord and of His Holy Spirit, try to find out what relationship they sustain to their Heavenly Father, and whether they are performing the various duties devolving upon them and are seeking to carry out the word, the will, and the law of God.5
When we are … assembled together we may expect to receive guidance and blessings from God, from whom, the Scriptures inform us, “every good and perfect gift proceeds;” and in Him, we are also informed, “there is no variableness nor shadow of turning.” [See James 1:17.] In our assemblies they who speak and they who hear ought to be under the guidance and direction of the Lord, the Fountain of Light. Of all people under the heavens we, Latter-day Saints, do continually realize the necessity of leaning upon God; for I look upon it that, no matter what intelligence may be communicated, no matter how brilliant the speech and edifying the ideas communicated may be, they will not benefit those who hear unless they are under the guidance and inspiration of the spirit of God.6
There is no man living, and there never was a man living, who was capable of teaching the things of God only as he was taught, instructed and directed by the spirit of revelation proceeding from the Almighty. And then there are no people competent to receive true intelligence and to form a correct judgment in relation to the sacred principles of eternal life, unless they are under the influence of the same spirit, and hence speakers and hearers are all in the hands of the Almighty.7
We meet together, as intelligent beings, desirous of understanding something of our common origin, our present existence, and our future destiny. We meet to find out something in relation to our Heavenly Father, in relation to his providential dealings with the human family, in relation to his policy and designs pertaining to us, and in relation to the object of our creation; and to know something, if possible, pertaining to that world that lies beyond our present scene of action. These are some things among the many that we are desirous to know, to comprehend, to find out, if possible.8
I do not know of any way whereby we can be taught, instructed, and be made to comprehend our true position, only by being under the influence of the Spirit of the living God. A man may speak by the Spirit of God, but it requires a portion of that Spirit also in those who hear, to enable them to comprehend correctly the importance of the things that are delivered to them, and hence the difficulty the Lord and his saints have always had in making the people comprehend the things that are especially for their interests. We all consider that if we could be taught of God it would be very well. I suppose the world generally would consider it to be a great blessing. Then the question arises in their minds, whether the teachings they receive come from God or not. How are they to know that? I know of no other way than that which is spoken in the scriptures, “But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” (Job 32:8) And, again, we are told in the New Testament, that “No man knoweth the things of God but by the Spirit of God.” [See 1 Corinthians 2:11.] Hence all the wisdom, all the intelligence, all the reasoning, all the philosophy and all the arguments that could be brought to bear on the human mind would be of no avail unless the mind of man is prepared to receive this teaching—prepared by the Spirit of the Lord, the same Spirit which conveys the intelligence.9
It would seem that the coming of the Savior to the world, his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension to the position he occupies in the eternal world before his Heavenly Father has a great deal to do with our interests and happiness; and hence this continued memorial that we partake of every Sabbath. This sacrament is the fulfillment of the request of Jesus Christ to his disciples. “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” (1 Corinthians 11:26.) Faith in this ordinance would necessarily imply that we have faith in Jesus Christ, that he is the Only Begotten of the Father, that he came from the heavens to the earth to accomplish a certain purpose which God had designed—even to secure the salvation and exaltation of the human family. All this has a great deal to do with our welfare and happiness here and hereafter. The death of Jesus Christ would not have taken place had it not been necessary. That this ceremony should be instituted to keep that circumstance before the minds of his people, bespeaks its importance.10
We have met to partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, and we should endeavor to draw away our feelings and affections from things of time and sense. For in partaking of the sacrament we not only commemorate the death and sufferings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but we also shadow forth the time when he will come again and when we shall meet and eat bread with him in the kingdom of God [see Luke 14:15; Matthew 26:29]. When we are thus assembled together, we may expect to receive guidance and blessings from God.11
Ancient people of God, in whose hearts was enkindled the flame of inspiration, looked forward to that memorable event when the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world would offer himself as a sacrifice, whilst we look back to the same thing. We break bread and eat, and we drink water in the presence of each other every Sabbath day, and we do it in remembrance of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; and this we will continue to do until he comes again. When he does come, the Latter-day Saints expect to be among that favored number that will eat and drink with him at his own table in our Father’s kingdom. I expect this just as much as I expect to eat my supper tonight.12
We ought to be careful that we do not partake of these emblems [of the sacrament] to our condemnation. Do you ever quarrel with your brethren, or act in such a way as to get up feelings, and perhaps speak harsh words one about another, and in other ways do that which is wrong, and then meet together in solemn mockery before God and eat condemnation to your souls? We want to be careful about these things; and hence we should understand that when we bring our gift to the altar, and there remember that we have ought against our brother, we should first go and be reconciled to him and then come and offer our gift [see Matthew 5:23–24]. Not come in any kind of hypocrisy, but come with clean hands and pure hearts, and feel to say “O God search me and try me and prove me, and if there is any way of wickedness in me, let it depart, and let me be thy true representative upon the earth, and let me partake of the spirit that dwelleth in Christ, and live in the enjoyment of that upon the earth; that when he comes again I, with my brethren, may meet him with clean hands and pure hearts.”13
Too many of us feel after the world. Can the world give you the light that you have received, and the gospel and the hopes of heaven you have received, and the priesthood you have received? And will you barter these things for a mess of pottage, and wallow in the filth, corruption, iniquity, and evils which abound in the world? What have we come here for? To worship God and to keep his commandments. And how is it with many of us? We forget, in many instances, our high calling’s glorious hope, and we give way to follies, foibles, weakness, and iniquity, and we are governed more or less by covetousness, drunkenness, Sabbath-breaking, and evils of various kinds. I sometimes see Elders of Israel bringing in loads of wood and loads of hay on the Sabbath day. Why, it is a burning shame in the eyes of God, holy angels, and all other intelligent beings. … What do you think about a lying Elder, a swearing High Priest, a Sabbath-breaking Seventy, and a covetous Saint? The souls of such men ought to be inspired with the light of revelation, and they ought to be living witnesses, epistles known and read of all men! Do you think you can live your religion, have the Spirit of God and obtain eternal life, and follow after these things? I tell you nay.14
It is customary for men in the world from which we have gathered out, to talk on Sunday about spiritual things, when they are dressed in their Sunday coats and at meeting, and then on Monday to pack up their religion with their Sunday clothes in their trunks, to have nothing more to do with it until next Sunday. … O, the folly of man in not acknowledging God in all things, in laying aside God and his religion, and trusting in their own judgment and intelligence.15
There is something that goes a little further than we think about sometimes; and that is, while we profess to be followers of the Lord, while we profess to have received the Gospel and to be governed by it, a profession will amount to nothing unless we have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. It is not enough for us to be connected with the Zion of God, for the Zion of God must consist of men that are pure in heart and pure in life and spotless before God, at least that is what we have got to arrive at. We are not there yet, but we must get there before we shall be prepared to inherit glory and exaltation; therefore a form of godliness will amount to but little with any of us, for he that knoweth the master’s will and doeth it not shall be beaten with many stripes [see Luke 12:47]. It is “not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but He that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” [Matthew 7:21.] These are doctrines of the Gospel as I understand them. And it is not enough for us to embrace the Gospel and to be gathered here to the land of Zion and be associated with the people of God, attend our meetings and partake of the Sacrament of the Lord’s supper, and endeavor to move along without much blame of any kind attached to us; for notwithstanding all this, if our hearts are not right, if we are not pure in heart before God, if we have not pure hearts and pure consciences, fearing God and keeping His commandments, we shall not, unless we repent, participate in these blessings about which I have spoken, and of which the Prophets bear testimony.16
It is our business to be Saints. And to be worthy of that character it is our duty to live by the principles of virtue, truth, integrity, holiness, purity, and honor that we may at all times secure the favor of Almighty God; that His blessings may be with us and dwell in our bosoms; that the peace of God may abide in our habitations; … and that we, as a people, may be under His divine protection.17
What are some of the blessings we can experience from faithful observance of the Sabbath? (See also D&C 59:9–13.) How have you personally been blessed for keeping the Sabbath day holy?
What can you do to worship God more fully on the Sabbath? How can you prepare yourself to be more in tune with the Holy Spirit before Church meetings begin?
What can parents and grandparents do to influence their children and grandchildren to keep the Sabbath holy? How can we make the Sabbath different from other days for our families? How can observance of the Sabbath strengthen families and protect us from the world?
Why is it necessary to learn by the Spirit in our Sabbath worship? What can you do in your role as a teacher or learner to invite the influence of the Holy Spirit on the Sabbath?
Why is it important that we regularly partake of the sacrament? What can you do to feel closer to the Lord as you partake of the sacrament?
What is the difference between merely attending meetings and truly keeping the Sabbath holy? How can you keep the spirit of the Sabbath with you during the week?