What then appears to be the will of God about the manner of observing the Sabbath Day? There are two general rules laid down for our guidance in the Fourth Commandment, and by them all questions must be decided.
One plain rule about the Sabbath is that it must be kept as a day of rest, All work of every kind ought to cease as far as possible, both of body and mind. “Thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.” Works of necessity and mercy may be done. Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us this, and teaches also that all such works were allowable in the Old Testament times. “Have ye not read,” He says, “what David did?” — “Have ye not read that the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?” (Matt. 12:5). Whatever, in short, is necessary to preserve and maintain life, whether of ourselves, or of the creatures, or to do good to the souls of men, may be done on the Sabbath Day without sin.
The other great rule about the Sabbath is, that it must be kept holy. It is not to be a carnal, sensual rest, like that of the worshippers of the golden calf, who “sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Exod. 32:6). It is to be emphatically a holy rest. It is to be a rest in which, as far as possible, the affairs of the soul may be attended to, business of another world minded, and communion with God and Christ kept up. In short, it ought never to be forgotten that it is “the Sabbath of the Lord our God” (Exod. 20:10).
I am no Pharisee. Let no hard-working man who has been confined to a close room for six weary days, suppose that I object to his taking any lawful relaxation for his body on the Sunday. I see no harm in a quiet walk on a Sunday, provided always that it does not take the place of going to public worship, and is really quiet, and like that of Isaac (Gen. 24:63). I read of our Lord and His disciples walking through the cornfields on the Sabbath Day. All I say is, beware that you do not turn liberty into licence — beware that you do not injure the souls of others in seeking relaxation for yourself — and beware that you never forget you have a soul as well as a body.
I am no enthusiast. I want no tired labourer to misunderstand my meaning, when I bid him to keep the Sabbath holy. I do not tell anyone that he ought to pray all day, or read his Bible all day, or go to church all day, or meditate all day, without let or cessation, on a Sunday. All I say is, that the Sunday rest should be a holy rest. God ought to be kept in view; God’s Word ought to be studied; God’s House ought to be attended; the soul’s business ought to be specially considered; and I say that everything which prevents the day being kept holy in this way, ought as far as possible to be avoided.