“How far does Sunday rest go?” New Era, Nov. 1971, 8–9
Answer/Russell C. Harris
Perhaps every concerned person has asked that question, if only to himself. And well he might, for no commandment has been spelled out more specifically, emphasized more consistently, or been ignored more generally: “… the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work. …” (Ex. 20:10.)
It would be healthy to admit that among those who want to obey the Lord’s commandments, there is wide and honest divergence of thought. Such divergence is understandable. There are legitimate areas for interpretation—but we need to interpret in the light of scripture!
You can rationalize, justify, or quibble with your conscience, or you can listen to the Lord: “If thou turn away … from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
“Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” (Isa. 58:13–14.)
The import of this and other scriptures is that the purpose of the Sabbath is to nourish the spirit. What nourishes my spirit may not sustain yours, but if we both have an eye clearly on the purpose of the Sabbath, a mobile measuring rod is adequate and relatively accurate. Does the admonition “not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure” suggest anything about golf, skiing, movies, baseball, and like pursuits? It does to me.
Writing to her son John, Susannah Wesley said, “Would you judge the lawfulness or unlawfulness of pleasure, then use this rule: Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish of spiritual things, increases the authority of your body over your mind; that thing to you is sin.”
Using this standard, each person may decide for himself what may best be done on the Lord’s day. This puts the burden where the Lord intended—on the shoulders of the individual.
Apply this rule to the many activities of your Sabbath day, for spiritual decay may result in you as surely from your carelessness as from willful design. The higher joys of life require self-discipline and training.
Activities that would impede spiritual growth in my thirteen-year-old son were not a problem when he was younger. Added maturity requires a finer interpretation.
We have been directed to study and to learn, but wouldn’t the best learning for the Sabbath be about things spiritual? Some college students maintain that they get better grades when they study six days of the week and use Sunday to be refreshed. This is not happenstance—it is the Lord’s way. Try it! “… the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.” (Ex. 31:17.)
In this temporal world we must be concerned daily with material needs and wants. An all-wise Father anticipating this set aside a special day lest many of us not take time to nourish the spiritual part of us—that which ultimately matters most. William E. Berrett has said, “God is not waiting to whip us or to punish us for breaking the Sabbath day. What we are will be reward or punishment enough.”
This, then, is the heart of the matter. The Sabbath was made for our good—not to enslave the spirit, but to feed it. And when the spirit is fed, the Sabbath day becomes the remarkable blessing that the Lord intended it to be.
The Lord has said: “Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary … and I will … establish my covenant with you … and I will walk among you and will be your God and ye shall be my people.” (Lev. 26.)