Regarding D&C 25, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley stated, “Insofar as I know, this is the only revelation given specifically to a woman, and in concluding it the Lord said, ‘This is my voice unto all’ (D&C 25:16). Therefore the counsel given by the Lord on this occasion is applicable to each of you” (Ensign, Nov. 1984, 90). A careful reading reveals that with the likely exception of verse eleven (and select, but few, verses throughout the Doctrine and Covenants as a whole) these instructions to Emma can be fruitfully applied to us today.
Sons and Daughters in God’s Kingdom
The Lord greets Emma by calling her his “daughter” (D&C 25:1). This is an intimate and important title, one certainly meant for Emma, but as noted above, this declaration was inclusive of more than Emma. “Verily I say unto you, all who receive my gospel are sons and daughters in my kingdom” (D&C 25:1). What does the Lord mean by this? Every Latter-day Saint child is familiar with Hymn #301, “I am a Child of God.” Yet, the scriptures contain many references to becoming the “children” of God (e.g. Moses 6:68; 7:1; John 1:12; 3 Nephi 9:17). So how is it that the Lord considers us to be his children then as a result of receiving the gospel?
The first thing we should recognize is that Jesus, our elder spirit brother, speaks to Emma and Joseph and the others in the Doctrine and Covenants, not the Father. We only have five recorded incidents when God the Father speaks in the entire canon (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5; 3 Nephi 11:7; 2 Nephi 31:11, 15, 20; and JSH 1:17). In this regard, King Benjamin’s people in the Book of Mormon were told, “because of the covenant [receiving the gospel formally] which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7). So, we already are, and always will be, the sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. As Paul said, “we are the offspring of God” (Acts 17:29).
However, it is only when each spirit-son or daughter of the Father becomes a formal and sincere receiver of the gospel of Jesus Christ that they can be called “sons and daughters in [His] kingdom” (D&C 25:1). We remember that Alma the Younger came out of his three day physical coma and declared, “all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters” (Mosiah 27:25).
Elder McConkie wrote, “Mere compliance with the formality of the ordinance of baptism does not mean that a person has been born again. No one can be born again without baptism, but the immersion in water and the laying on of hands to confer the Holy Ghost do not of themselves guarantee that a person has been or will be born again. The new birth takes place only for those who actually enjoy the gift or companionship of the Holy Ghost, only for those who are fully converted, who have given themselves without restraint to the Lord” (Mormon Doctrine, 101). This is the clear teaching of the Lord throughout the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 11:30; 34:3; 35:2; 39:4; 45:8; note also Moroni 7:26, 48).
The declaration to Emma that she was indeed the Savior’s daughter would be a comfort to her during the difficulties of persecution and privation. She had been through the terror of mob action in Colesville, New York. She had seen her husband and Oliver Cowdery arrested twice and put through the public shame of subsequent trials. She had known the fear of imminent physical danger by the mobs and also the emotional strain of harassment and vilification. How wonderful to know then, that she was a spiritually begotten daughter of the Lord! How comforting to feel of his kind and accepting relation and concern!
We may also be assured that if we are “receiving” the gospel and “giving ourselves without restraint to the Lord” that no matter the outside and worldly influences and associations we may be subject to, we are also being qualified as His sons and daughters. As such, we too may be comforted. Emma is told to “Lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” (D&C 25:10). This is reminiscent of the Savior’s teachings to his New Testament Apostles: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid… These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 14:27; 16:33). Focusing on the big, and future, picture of the eternities possible through Christ will do much to allay our daily mortal concerns and stresses. Solomon stated, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).
Thy Calling Shall be for a Comfort
Section 25 is a marvelous revelation on marriage as well. The interplay between Emma and Joseph as a married couple is instructive. She is to be “a comfort” to him with “consoling words” given in “the spirit of meekness” (v. 5). She is to accompany him and be his scribe (v. 6). Joseph was to ordain her, whereby she could then teach the scriptures and “exhort the church” (v. 7).
President John Taylor later explained the meaning of Emma’s ordination which he performed on the day that the Relief Society was organized in Nauvoo, 1842. “Some of the sisters have thought that these sisters mentioned here (Emma and her counselors) were, in this ordination, ordained to the priesthood. And for the information of all interested in this subject I will say, it is not the calling of these sisters to hold the Priesthood, only in connection with their husbands, they being one with their husbands” [Journal of Discourses, 21:367-68; cited in Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett’s, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, 1:171].
Through his ministration to her by the Priesthood, she would receive the Holy Ghost and then contribute by the spirit in her writing and learning (v. 8). She is to realize that Joseph’s calling is to the Church and that through this Joseph would be a support to her (v. 9). She is to “cleave” unto her covenants that she and Joseph had made in marriage and in the gospel. She is to let her “soul delight in [her] husband, and the glory which shall come upon him” (v. 14).
The picture painted here in Section 25 is that of two people thoroughly given to the cause of the Church and the building up of Zion. These are selfless individuals who have hearts and hands only for the Lord’s work. This is not to say that all who seek to follow their example must be continual full-time servants by formal calling in the Church as Joseph and Emma were, but that each of us in our marriages may be full-time laborers in the kingdom-starting and ending in our own homes.
President Kimball, commenting on a later revelation (D&C 42:22-23), addressed spousal relationships, “When the Lord says all thy heart, it allows for no sharing nor dividing nor depriving. The words none else eliminate everyone and everything.
The spouse then becomes preeminent in the life of the husband or wife, and neither social life nor occupational life nor political life nor any other interest nor person nor thing shall ever take precedence over the companion spouse. Marriage presupposes total allegiance and total fidelity. Any divergence is sin; any sharing of the heart is transgression. As we should have ‘an eye single to the glory of God,’ so should we have an eye, an ear, a heart single to the marriage and the spouse and family” (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes The Miracle, 142-43).
Of course melding two lives into one in marriage is not without its difficulties. One specific challenge to following these divine directions given to Emma is the confusion that can and does exist over the different natures that men and women have. Elder Boyd K. Packer has broadly observed that “the whole universe is organized in order that man and woman might fulfill the full measure of their creation. It is a perfect system where delicate balances and counter-balances govern the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual in mankind” (“A Tribute to Women,” Ensign, July 1989, 73). He continues, “The separate natures of man and woman were designed by the Father of us all to fulfill the purposes of the gospel plan. Never can two of the same gender fulfill the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth. Only a woman can bestow upon man that supernal title of father. She in turn becomes a mother. Can anyone dispute that her part is different from and more demanding than his? Men and women have complementary, not competing, responsibilities. There is difference but not inequality. Intelligence and talent favor both of them. But in the woman’s part, she is not just equal to man; she is superior! She can do that which he can never do; not in all eternity can he do it. There are complementary rewards which are hers and hers alone” (Ibid, 73-74).
In this way, the “complementary” but “different” natures of men and women provide for endless learning opportunities together, if we will let them! Elder Packer further reminds us that gospel ordinances are “bestowed impartially upon man and woman alike. And the highest ordinances in the House of the Lord [are received] together and equally or not at all!” (Ibid, 74.) In order for each of us to reach the divine destiny offered us as children of the Father and children of Christ, we must come together in divinely ordained marriage under the gospel’s inspired terms-working out of salvation hand-in-hand before the Lord. Until we refuse to place anyone or anything (including ourselves) before our spouses-in the Lord, we will ultimately miss the Lord’s choicest blessings reserved for righteous couples.
It should be noted, of course, that the prophets have always taught that those who are not privileged to have a marriage in mortality, who would have received it if the appropriate opportunity had been available, will be given that chance in the eternities.
A Footnote on Joseph’s Statements and Feelings about Emma
Emma Smith has been the subject of controversy ever since she decided not to join Brigham Young and the major body of the Church in the trek west. Many have wondered what ramifications or consequences have or will come to her because of that decision. Following are two statements of Joseph Smith regarding Emma that I like to refer to as a help and guide in these matters.
“On a Sunday, a beautiful day, Benjamin Johnson records, they were sitting in the dining room and in came two of his [Joseph and Emma’s] children ‘as just from their mother, all so nice, bright and sweet.’ Joseph said, ‘Benjamin, look at these children. How could I help loving their mother; if necessary, I would go to hell for such a woman.’ There is the truth about the legend that has grown up [about Joseph going to hell to get Emma out]. Joseph Smith, so far as the evidence leads, never said (a) ‘Emma is going to hell,’ or (b) ‘I’m going to go to dig her out.’ He said, ‘I would go to hell for such a woman,’ meaning, ‘I feel strongly and deeply toward my wife.’ The distinction is clear” (Truman G. Madsen, Joseph Smith: The Prophet, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989, 64-65, citing from The Benjamin F. Johnson Letter to George S. Gibbs, [pamphlet, copied from typescript of original 1903 letter], Dugway, Utah: Pioneer Press, 1968, 4).
Perhaps the words of Joseph as recorded in the Kirtland Temple Dedicatory Prayer express his sentiments and faith regarding Emma and their family together best: “Have mercy, O Lord, upon [my] wife and children, that they may be exalted in thy presence, and preserved by thy fostering hand” (D&C 109:69).