What special message would you have for your children and other family members if you knew your time was drawing nigh? There are in the scriptures detailed accounts of several occasions where prophets have provided remarkable benedictory pronouncements on their children: the blessings that Jacob (Israel) gave to his sons (see Genesis 49), the blessings of Lehi for his sons and their families (see 2 Nephi 1–4); and the counsel of Alma for his sons Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton (see Alma 36–42). Under similar circumstances, during the stressful Liberty Jail episode, the Prophet Joseph Smith provided his family with tender communications that demonstrated his love and concern for his wife and children.
In a letter dated March 21, 1839, to Emma, with the salutation “Affectionate Wife,” the Prophet Joseph wrote: “I have sent an Epistle to the church directed to you because I wanted you to have the first reading of it and then I want Father and Mother to have a copy of it. Keep the original yourself as I dictated the matter myself and shall send another as soon as possible” (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jessee [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984], 408; text modernized in some places). By “Epistle” he means his inspired composition dated March 20, 1839, that contains the material subsequently excerpted as Sections 121, 122, and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants (see HC, 3:289–305).
It is instructive that he wanted Emma to be the first to read this extraordinary document, and then to have his parents be the next ones to read it. That shows two levels of love on the part of the Prophet—charity, or “the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47), and familial love, or the deep and abiding affection between husband and wife and within the larger family circle. By sharing the inspiring and edifying epistle, the Prophet wanted to bestow on Emma and his parents the hope, courage, faith, and love that are inseparable elements of a “godly walk and conversation” (D&C 20:69), even at times of extreme adversity. By wanting Emma and his parents to be the first to read the document, the Prophet was extending a warm and affectionate personal privilege to those closest to him in the world. (Richard J. Allen)