The Case of D.M. Canright

Chapter 5 - In Adventism

Having shown that Canright’s testimony if deserving of credit, I shall now draw on his own account of his experiences in Adventism (SDAR, ch. 2). If it should seem strange that he was able to write of his past with the detail that he does, it only needs to be stated that it was his custom to keep a diary (So his son declared in a letter to Mr. Dey on Jan. 8, 1961. In a letter which he wrote to me on Dec. 12, 1962, he says: "Yes, my father kept a diary all his life. I remember a box of thirty or forty of them which I used to look through once in a while.")

Mr. and Mrs. James White settled in Battle Creek, Mich. In 1855, but it was while Dudley was a student at the Academy in Albion, N.Y., four years later, that he came into contact with them. (The Adventist movement was then only in its middle teens and had only about 5,000 adherents.) Mr. White was preaching on the Sabbath question - a favorite with him, as anyone can see by looking over the issues of Present Truth (1849-1850), and the early copies of Review and Herald. Dudley was an earnest young Christian, and wanted to please God. Being ignorant of the Scriptures, he was easily misled (SDAR, p. 37). He tells his own story of this crisis in these words:

"As I was anxious to be right, I began keeping Saturday, but did no expect to believe any more of their doctrine. Of course I attended their meetings on Saturday and worked on Sunday. This separated me entirely from other Christians, and threw me wholly with the Adventists. I soon learned from them that all other churches were Babylon, in the dark and under the frown of God. Seventh-day Adventists were the only true people of God. They had ‘the truth,’ the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They defended Mr. Miller’s work of 1844, believed in the visions of Mrs. White, the sleep of the dead, the annihilation of the wicked, feet-washing, etc. At first these things staggered me, and I thought of drawing back; but they explained them plausibly, and smoothed them over, and said they were no test anyway. Having no one to intelligently aid me, I began to see things as they did, and in a few weeks came to believe the whole system. I was again baptized, as their converts from other churches generally are, so as to get clean out of Babylon. Persuaded that time was too short, I gave up going to school, dropped the study of all else, listened to their preaching, devoured their books and studied my Bible day and night to sustain those new views. I was now an enthusiastic believer, and longed to convert everybody to the faith. I had not a doubt that it was the pure truth." (Ibid., p. 37f)

In May of 1864, at the age of 24, Canright was licensed to preach. He soon began to work in Michigan with, and under, and older Adventist minister, Elder I.D. VanHorn, whose photograph, which I have seen at the Tabernacle in Battle Creek, reveals him as a man not only handsome, but also capable and genial. The following year Dudley was ordained by James White.

In 1866 a new and thrilling assignment came to young Canright. He was sent all the way to Maine, whence the Whites had come. Again, he was to work with, and under, an older minister - this time J.N. Andrews, "the ablest man among them." Looking back to this period, more than 20 years later, Canright says, "This was a big thing for me. I threw myself into the work with great enthusiasm, and was very happy. Elder Andrews was strong in the faith and very radical, and I partook of his spirit." (Ibid. p. 39) In his diary, he tells us that Elder Andrews warned him against becoming exalted, and that he was afraid of being proud.

The next year, Canright returned to Battle Creek, Mich., to get married, but then resumed work in New England. In May of 1869, he was again in Battle Creek for a few weeks before being transferred to Iowa, where he was to remain until sometime in 1872. As before, he worked under the supervision of an older man, G.I. Butler who, at the end of 1871, was elected to the first of his terms as President of the General Conference.

On leaving Iowa in 1872 Canright went north into Minnesota, where he "had good success." The next year he and his wife "went to Colorado to spend a few weeks with Elder White and wife in the mountains." He did some preaching in that state, and then proceeded to California. "In 1874 Elder White had arranged to have a big debate held at Napa City, Calif., between Elder Miles Grant, of Boston, Mass., and one of our ministers." The Adventist minister chosen for this debate, which was carried on for nearly a week, was Canright. (Ibid., pp. 42, 45)

The year following, the Canrights returned to Michigan, from which he was commissioned to attend the Adventist State Conferences in Vermont, Kansas, Ohio, and Indiana. He was also sent, with the editor of Review and Herald, as a delegate to the Seventh-day Baptist General Conference.

He tells us: "In the winter of 1875-6 Elder White requested me to visit all the churches in Michigan, and straighten up their finances, which were in bad shape. I found them discouraged, and behind on their pledges and dissatisfied with the Systematic Benevolence plan." (Life of Mrs. E.G. White, p. 68) This system had been introduced in 1859, and was sanctioned by Mrs. White as being "pleasing to God," Who, she declared had "laid the plan by the descent of His Holy Spirit." She added: "This is one of the very points to which God is bringing up His people," i.e., the Adventists. (Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 190-191) Eight years later, she asserted that this plan had "originated with God, whose wisdom is unerring." (Ibid., p. 545) One of the stipulations in it was "for property owners to give weekly from one to five cents on each hundred dollars worth of assets" (Ibid., p. 714) - and that, whether the property was producing or not. Today it is said, in an editorial footnote, that this scheme, which proved unworkable, had not been presented "as a perfected plan!" (Ibid., p. 715 n.)

Canright continues: "After studying the subject, I set that plan all aside, and had the churches adopt the plan of tithing as practiced by that church ever since. All were pleased, and the finances greatly improved. I went to Battle Creek and laid the new plan before Elder White. He readily accepted it, and the change was made general." (Life of Mrs. E.G. White, p. 68)

1876 was a year of special honor, for in it Canright was sent to Minnesota and Texas, and then "through most of the southern states." After laboring with signal success in New York state, he traveled with the Whites to Indiana and Illinois, and was then sent to hold debates in Kansas and Missouri. But, what is more, he was, that year, "elected a member of the General Conference Committee of three, with Elder White and Elder Haskell, and continued on the Committee two years." This was "the highest official authority in the denomination," having control of all its work throughout the world. (SDAR, p. 45f; cf. p. 14)

In 1877 Canright did a good deal of work in New England. Mrs. White tells of his ministry in Danvers, Mass., during that summer. (Testimonies, vol. 4, pp. 277-81). It was there that he, on Aug. 18th, disregarded the Adventist custom of taking no collections on "The Sabbath" - an action subsequently approved by Mr. and Mrs. White, and universally adopted in their churches. The next year, after laboring further in Massachusetts - and also in Michigan, New York, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado and Ohio - he was made President of the Ohio Conference in the fall. In 1879, during which his wife died, he ministered in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. 1880 found him in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. On the urgent recommendation of Mrs. White, he was again elected President of the Ohio Conference. (SDAR, p. 46f)

In the early part of 1881, Canright went to New York City with James White. Mention of this trip is made in the Review and Herald for Aug. 23, 1881 (p. 130). White desired that the two of them might again be members of the General Conference Committee, as they had formerly been, but he died on the sixth of August. Canright says: "That year [1881] I labored in Canada, Vermont, Maine, New England [generally], and Michigan, and was elected member of the State Executive Committee of Michigan that fall. I worked another year in Michigan."(Ibid., pp. 47-49) For the next two years (1882-84) Canright farmed. (The reason will appear in my next chapter)

In the fall of 1884, Canright returned to preaching. "In a few weeks I was sent to attend large meetings in Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota, Iowa, and New England." In the time that followed, he "assisted in revival meetings in Battle Creek; was appointed with Elder Butler to lecture before the ministers on how to labor successfully; conducted a similar course in the Academy at South Lancaster, Mass.; was at the state meetings in New York, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio." (Ibid., pp. 49-50). Mrs. White reported that he held tent meetings in Worcester, Mass., in the summer of 1885. (R&H, Sep. 15, p. 578)

Writing of the time immediately preceding his withdrawal, Canright says: "By my urgent appeal, an effort was made to bring up our ministers to some plan of study in which they are very deficient. I was on the committee to arrange this. I selected the course of studies and framed all the questions, by which they were to be examined. I was then furnished a shorthand reporter, and in the summer was sent to ten different states, namely, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Dakota, and Michigan, to attend their state conferences, examine their ministers, report their meetings for the daily press, etc., and this I did." (SDAR, p. 50) In another place he says: "Year after year I was elected on the boards having charge of their most important institutions, such as Publishing House, College, Sanitarium, Sabbath School Association, etc., etc. For proof of this see their printed year books where my name appears constantly." (Ibid., p. 14)

At the time of withdrawal, he informs us, he "was member of the Executive Committee of the International Sabbath School Association; member of the Executive Committee of the Michigan State Sabbath School Association; and at the last session of the general conference was chairman of the International Sabbath School Association, and was on nine different committees, several of them the most important in the conference, as the one on distribution of laborers over all the world, the theological committee, the one on camp meetings, on a special course of study in our college, on the improvement of the ministry, etc." (Ibid., p. 54)

He also says "I had just gotten out a new pamphlet, "Critical Notes," of which they printed an edition of 10,000 after I left them. Others of my works they have revised, left my name off, and use them still." (Ibid.) I myself have a tract of his, published in 1885, which was being distributed by an Adventist in 1962.

Something more should be said here about Canright’s literary efforts on behalf of Adventism. He informs us that as early as 1866 he "had become quite a writer." (Ibid. p. 39) - a statement evidently not intended to be taken too seriously. (The first article from his pen that I have noticed in the Review and Herald, appeared in the issue for Feb. 27, 1866.) We know from the book written by Madge Knevels Goodrich, A.M. in 1928, that his volume on the Ministration of Angels (144 pages) was published in 1868, and his work on the History of the Doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul (186 pages) in 1871. But a good many of smaller publications must have also appeared by 1872, for he says: "By this time I had written much, and so was well known to all our people." (SDAR p. 42) In 1875 his Morality of the Sabbath (96 pages) came out; in 1876, The Two Laws (126 pages); in 1878, The Bible from Heaven (300 pages); and in 1881, Matter and Spirit (66 pages).

Canright declares: "But it was as a writer in their papers, as the author of numerous tracts, pamphlets and books covering nearly every controverted point of their faith, as a lecturer and debater in defense of their doctrines, that I was the best known during the last fifteen years I was with them." (SDAR, p. 14) "while I was with them they published over twenty different productions of mine, and circulated hundreds of thousands of them, translated several of them into other languages, and paid me hundreds of dollars for them." (Ibid., p. 54; cf. p. 15) They once paid him $500 in a single check.

It is now time to report on the criticisms of Canright’s account made by Uriah Smith, and published in the Review and Herald Extra for December 1887 (pages 3-4).

1. Having just presented Canright’s statements concerning his publications on behalf of Adventism, I begin with Smith’s comments on them. He declares that Canright has "set the trumpet ringing through all the land over his wonderful achievements in authorship, keyed up to the following high pitch: ‘He is the author of more than a score of books and pamphlets published in the interest of the denomination.’" Smith proceeds to say: "His books are two.... His pamphlets are four.... His tracts are fifteen." In other words, Canright had not written more than twenty "books and pamphlets," for fifteen of his productions were merely tracts (one of 32 pages, two of 24 pages, and the rest of 8). However, both the Otsego Union (for April 22, 1887) and the Kalamazoo Telegraph (of May 20, 1887), which reported Canright’s leaving Adventism, contained these words: "he is the author of twenty-two books, pamphlets and tracts" (italics supplied). As Smith referred to both of these issues in his article, he plainly misrepresented Canright’s assertion in order to discredit him.

Smith says Canright wrote four pamphlets, though he himself tells us that one of these had 66 pages, another 96, another 126, and the remaining one 144! Most people will not deem it fair to include the last two in that category. If Canright’s The Two Laws lacked cloth binding, was it therefore not a book? This kind of treatment of the facts on Smith’s part only further betrays his dishonesty.

As to the two publications which Smith acknowledges to be books, he says disparagingly that The Bible from Heaven was "simply a revision of a volume on the same subject originally written by Moses Hull, and not materially enlarged or improved."; and that the History of the Doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul was merely a "compilation of unequivocal historical testimony." It seems that these two books were considered valuable prior to Canright’s withdrawal. It was, therefore, unfair to belittle them afterward.

Smith’s remarks on Canright’s publications - characterized as they are, by misrepresentations, dishonesty and unfairness - hardly prepare his reader to have much confidence in his other comments, but I will reproduce them for what they may be worth.

2. Canright states that in the spring of 1886, he "was appointed to lecture before the theological class in the Battle Creek College," and that he held this position until the day he left the Adventists. (SDAR, p. 50,54). Smith acknowledges that in the spring of 1886 Canright was called in to be instructor in Biblical exegesis, but explains that this was merely as a temporary supply for the last three weeks of the long winter term. He admits, too, that Canright acted as assistant professor in this department in the fall, from Nov. 18 to Dec. 24, but adds: "that closed his connection with the College."

3. Canright states that in the spring of 1886 he was appointed "Associate Editor of the Sickle." (Ibid. p. 50) Smith says that the Sickle was then "conducted by an editorial committee of five, of which he [Canright] was one, but was not the chairman." (He had not said he was the chairman.)

4. A fourth claim which Smith challenges is that Canright "was writing the lessons for all the Sabbath Schools throughout the world." (Ibid., p. 54) On this, Smith affirms that "the permanent lessons are contained in a series of books of which he [Canright] is not the author. The current lessons going through are Youth’s paper are furnished by various writers. Different ones had written up the subjects, committed to them, and Eld. C. Was then furnishing his quota, eleven in number, and the only ones he ever wrote."

5. Still a fifth assertion by Canright is assailed by Smith. Canright says that when he left Adventism he "had the charge of some eighteen churches in Michigan." (Ibid.) To this, Smith replies:

"The facts in this case are these: Seventh-day Adventist churches maintain their regular worship without the assistance of any located pastors, leaving our entire ministry free to act as evangelists in new fields. As a consequence, many of our churches pass long periods without any preaching, and consequently Conference committees aim to arrange the labor in the State so that ministers will occasionally be at liberty to visit the churches, to help and encourage them in the Christian life by a few meetings. At a general meeting for the State of Michigan, held at Ithaca during the closing days of 1886, Eld. C. Was present, and it was there arranged that the ministers of the State should spend a little time not favorable for other work in making brief visits to the churches, each one being requested to take a certain district, so that the whole State might be covered. The district which Eld. Canright was requested to visit, though no special charge was committed to him, contained, we presume, 18 churches; we take his count for it. To enter upon this duty he left his work in the College to which he never returned, and commenced the visitation of these churches, which he never completed. And this is the extent of his ‘charge’ of 18 churches."

These, then, are Smith’s five criticisms of Canright’s account. As the first one is characterized by dishonesty, we are not too sure of the validity of the rest. But if we were to consider all five as unadulterated truth, the utmost that could legitimately be made of them would not serve to diminish, to any appreciable degree, the importance of Canright’s contribution to the progress of Adventism.

We see, then, that Canright exercised his ministry over a large area - both in Canada and in the United States, but mostly in the latter. There he labored in New England (Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont), in the Middle Atlantic (Pennsylvania, New York), in most of the southern states, in the central ones (Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin), and west of the Mississippi (Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, California).

We also see that Canright was entrusted with important commissions. He was asked to visit all the churches in Michigan to straighten out their finances. He was a member of the State Executive Committee of Michigan. He was sent to attend various State Conferences from Vermont to Kansas, and constituted a delegate to the General Conference of the Seventh-day Baptists. He was twice elected president of the Ohio State Conference, twice appointed to lecture to the ministers on how to labor effectively, chosen to hold debates with non-Adventists (this, no less than fourteen times, from Main to California), and exalted for two years to be a member of the highest committee in the General Conference. These commissions show that in the spheres of finance, administration, public relations, instruction and apologetics, Canright was considered to be a man endowed with exceptional ability. No wonder he had been instrumental in adding a thousand persons to Adventism’s membership, and ten to its ministry. (Otsego Union, supplement for Apr. 22, 1887).

Moreover, from the foregoing record, we see that Canright was well acquainted with all of the main persons in the movement: with Mr. and Mrs. White, I.D. Van Horn, J.N. Andrews, G.W. Amadon, J.N. Loughborough, G.I. Butler, Uriah Smith and S.N. Haskell. He likewise knew Cornell, Aldrich, Waggoner, Walker, and others. He, therefore, belonged to the elite of Adventism.

In spite of Smith disparagement, the average reader will conclude that Canright occupied a really important place in Seventh-day Adventism.

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