It is easy to get into loose and slipshod ways; and especially when the practices of others by whom you are surrounded are loose and slipshod. The only corrective in such circumstances is to accept the guidance afforded by scripture. You will never be set right by observing the conduct generally displayed by others. And this is especially true as to the manner in which the first day of the week is usually spent.
I am not about to give you a dissertation upon the distinctions between the Lord's day and the Jewish sabbath. But I do desire to impress upon you at least one fact with regard to this day; and the fact is that the first day of the week is the LORD'S day. And because it is the Lord's day it possesses a character entirely different from the other six. In a broad, general sense, of course all the days are His, as well as all the weeks and all the years. But only one of the days of the week is called the "Lord's," and therefore it is such in a peculiar sense. Just as, though everything in a certain house belongs to the head of it, the father may say, This is my room, or my chair, or my book; and we quite understand that the room or chair or book is in virtue of that claim set apart for the father's particular use. And in this manner the Lord has spoken of the first of the week.
Now if the question is looked at from this standpoint, many practical difficulties that present themselves to those anxious to please the Lord will disappear. For the facts of the case are that the Lord your Master has signified that the day is His, and without giving you a catalogue of what you may and what you may not do, He has left you to gather from His word what will be most pleasing to Him. This is not difficult. It may be difficult to decide what is right and what is wrong, but it is never difficult to please the Lord. And the latter should ever be the object before you.
Now if you are desirous of pleasing the Lord on His day, you will never be led to self-indulgence. It is a very common and erroneous notion that the day of which I speak is one specially ordained by a gracious Providence that man should spend in idleness, which he calls rest, or in the pursuit of pleasure, which he calls recreation. That there are physical benefits derived from the weekly cessation from ordinary duties one would not deny, and in the institution of the sabbath as in Old Testament days this feature is made prominent, and suitably so to that dispensation. But I do hope that none of my young friends will descend so far below the Christian standard as to reckon the Lord's day to be one designed for self-ease and enjoyment. Supposing you have had a busy week, do you think you are a mere machine just to stop "running" until you are wanted again on Monday morning? Besides, you ought to remember that "Absence of occupation is not rest; a mind quite vacant is a mind distressed." Let the time be profitably spent for the Lord and not for self.
It can hardly be supposed that any person would seriously recommend as a proper mode of procedure on the Lord's day to shorten it as much as possible by rising later and retiring earlier than usual, thus cutting off a little from each end of the day. If you are inclined to do so, be sure to have good reason, for it is the Lord's time you are so using. We have heard of persons securing to themselves full twenty-four waking hours on a Bank Holiday; but then that was for self-enjoyment.
The apostle John in the isle of Patmos says, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day" (Rev. 1:10). This expression, "in the Spirit," denotes the normal Christian state, as Romans 8 shows. It implies that the Holy Spirit of God given to dwell in John as in all believers was leading his heart into happy exercise concerning divine things. And so should you seek that it might be with you.
What a suitable time for special study of God's word, and particularly for quiet meditation on it. (I am speaking now of your own private reading). It is on such occasions that the Lord makes known the preciousness of His love. And indeed I think we may well expect that this will always be the case. For what more honouring to the Lord on His day than to be sitting at His feet to learn of Him? Those that honour Him He will be sure to honour.
Ministry to others in the things of the Lord is surely acceptable, and with young persons this may most suitably take the form of conversation. If your topics of talk one with another on the Lord's day are restricted to sacred subjects you will be a help one to another.
Even those necessary duties, domestic or otherwise, which must be performed, may be ennobled by being done with a special sense of the Lord's presence. Why may you not in these things have Him before you, and do them unto Him? By such means you will surely catch the intention of the Lord as to the manner of observing His day.
O day most calm, most bright,
The fruit of this, the next world's bud,
Th' indorsement of supreme delight,
Writ by a friend, and with His blood;
The couch of time; care's balm and bay;
The weeks were dark, but for thy light;
Thy Torch doth show the way.
The other days and thou
Make up one man; whose face thou art,
Knocking at heaven with thy brow;
The working days are the back-part;
The burden of the week lies there,
Making the whole to stoop and bow,
Till thy release appear.
This day my Saviour rose;
And did enclose this light for His:
That, as each beast his manger knows,
Man might not of his fodder miss.
Christ hath took in this piece of ground,
And made a garden there for those
Who want herbs for their wound.