6. "If I Ever Go Back"
DUDLEY M. CANRIGHT apparently had not learned the lesson he thought he had
mastered. After a few months he again lapsed into doubt and darkness. In the
fall of 1882 he gave up preaching and went to farming in Otsego, Michigan. For two
years he tilled the soil. In a letter to a friend he wrote that he was busy and hard
at work, doing what he loved to do "the best of anything." He declared
that he had no intention of ever again engaging in ministerial work. He clearly
stated that his reason for abandoning his ministry was his impaired confidence in the work
of Ellen G. White. "I am thoroughly satisfied that the visions are not from
God, but are wholly the fruit of her own imagination."
"But," he continued, "you can not separate her visions and work from the
third message as held by our people."
He expressed high regard for "Elder Butler and all the other leading men. . . . I
have no feelings against any of them, excepting Mrs. White. I dislike her very much
indeed. . . . But they are good men for all that, and I never shall willingly oppose
them. I am a member of the church still and do all I can to help it. But if I
were situated differently, I would just as soon join some other church."D. M.
Canright letter, Dec. 8, 1883. (Italics supplied.)
The expression "our people" was one that, as will be seen, Canright would
never be able to drop, even after years spent in active opposition to Seventh-day
This time, Canright's lapse was a serious one. Elder Butler commented
that "so notorious was his apostasy at the time,
that without doubt the church stood where a little
encouragement would have led them to withdraw the hand of fellowship from him. But
some of us who felt a pity for him, knowing his weakness, counseled delay, and commenced
to labor earnestly to help him."Review and Herald Extra, December,
1887, p. 3.
In response to the pleading of his friends, Canright attended a camp meeting at
Jackson, Michigan, in September, 1884. After much prayer and counsel, with
explanation of some matters he had viewed in an exaggerated light, he once again publicly
took his stand with Seventh-day Adventists. A thousand people, many with tears in
their eyes, heard his heartfelt confession. He spoke of the clouds of darkness that
had enveloped his mind; but now, he declared, all was clear to him.
He confessed freely that for years he had harbored in his heart bitter feelings
toward Mrs. White because of the testimonies he had received from her. Then in the
company of a select few he confessed this all to her and begged her forgiveness.
"You then humbled your heart," wrote Ellen White to Canright of this
experience, "and upon your knees asked me to forgive you for the things you had said
about me and my work." And she reports, "I freely forgave you, for it was
not against me. None of these things were against me: I was only a servant bearing
the message God gave me."Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, p. 623.
He seemed like a changed man as he went forth to work once more. All
rejoiced that Elder Canright was again in the gospel field, preaching with power the
message of the Sabbath and the soon return of Jesus.
In the Review and Herald he published an explanation. His
problem, he stated, went back some eleven years to the time he and Lucretia had received a
testimony from Sister White, and they had thought it too severe. This was in
connection with their Colorado visit in 1873. Then, in 1879, he had received another
testimony. Again, he had been in Colorado with Elder White. Again he had
rejected the rebuke. But finding no comfort away from his lifework, he started preaching
"practical truths largely." This had satisfied no one, so he gave up and bought a farm.
Then came that Michigan camp meeting. With Elder Butler's encouragement,
Canright re-examined those testimonies of reproof and rebuke. He saw that he
"had put a wrong meaning on some things, and that other things were certainly
true." Light came, and "for the first time in years," he admitted,
"I could truly say that I believed the testimonies. All my hard feelings toward
Sister White vanished in a moment, and I felt a tender love towards her. Everything
Canright confessed to a hasty, harsh spirit in his work and went on to say:
I think that my disbelief of the testimonies and other truths has come by opening
my heart to doubts, cherishing them and magnifying them. . . .
Like Peter, I did not know myself till God left me to be tried. I feel
greatly humbled under the shameful failure I have made. . . .
Friday, Sept. 26, while on the camp-ground at Jackson, Mich., I felt in my heart
the most remarkable change that I ever experienced in all my life. It was a complete
reversion of all my feelings. Light and faith came into my soul, and I felt that God
had given me another heart. I never felt such a change before, not even when first
converted, nor when I embraced the message, nor at any other time. . . . I want to say to
all my friends everywhere, that now I not only accept, but believe the testimonies to be
from God. Knowing the opposition I have felt to them, this change in my feelings is
more amazing to myself than it can be to others. . . .
I am fully satisfied that my own salvation and my usefulness in saving others
depends upon my being connected with this people and this work. And here I take my
stand to risk all I am, or have, or hope for, in this life and the life to come, with this
people and this work.Review and Herald, Oct. 7, 1884.
W. A. Spicer, a young Adventist stenographic secretary in one of the Battle Creek
institutions who "ran down for the weekend to attend" that 1884 Jackson camp
meeting, saw and described Canright's dramatic reconversion. Spicer states that
Canright read a testimony from Sister White that he said he had rejected eleven years
before: "'I did not believe it when I read it eleven years ago,' he told us,
holding it up before the congregation. 'But I have lived to see every word
of it fulfilled.'
"He came back into the work. But for me," Spicer
"that camp meeting brought a coming 'into
the work' also. . . . At the Jackson meeting somebody's preaching sent the conviction into
my heart that going only halfway into this thing meant losing eternal life. I
surrendered anew to Christ and this message. Then everything was new to me. I
went back to the headquarters 'in the work.' I was in this movement heart and soul
and all."Ibid., Nov. 17, 1949.
Thus the reconversion of one man had its influence in the life decision of a
younger man, one who became a completely dedicated, faithful worker for God and a church
The General Conference session was called for the first three weeks of November
at Battle Creek. Canright attended. With the close of the conference Thursday,
November 20, 1884, general meetings were announced for Otsego, Michigan, to begin Friday
evening and run through Monday. Ellen White journeyed the thirty miles to Otsego on
Friday and arrived as the church bell was ringing calling the people to worship. Of
this series of meetings Ellen White wrote:
"The brethren and sisters had come together from different churches, and the
house of worship was crowded. The gallery was full, seats were placed in the aisles,
and quite a number could obtain no seats. My own soul was strengthened and refreshed
in dwelling upon the gracious promises of God. In watering others, my own soul was
watered."Ibid., Dec. 2, 1884
As the meetings progressed, all eyes were on Elder Canright. In her report
she continued, "How my heart rejoiced to see Bro. Canright all interest, heart and
soul in the work, as he used to be years in the past! I could but exclaim, What hath
the Lord wrought!" Ibid.
Elder Canright was the speaker for the meeting the evening after the
Sabbath. His discourse was impressive.
But it was on Sunday morning, when he recounted his past experience, that the
people gave their most earnest attention. Elder E. P. Daniels, who took down the
discourse in shorthand, recorded what he said. We give this in
I have had a great desire to come back here and labor; but the General Conference
has thought best that I should labor in other States for a time. If I do that, I
shall not therefore be here very much; and I feel it a great disappointment.
Of course, the brethren here know more or less of my relation to the cause during the past twenty-five years. Having been a preacher among our people, most of our brethren
know me in some way, in almost every State in the Union, from Maine to California.
It seems to me . . . that my whole soul is now bound up in this present
truth. I have told my brethren that if the world were before me, the truth is so
clear that I know I could make them see it. I have also said that I do not believe
any man takes as much pleasure in worldly pursuits as I do in this.
I have tried to analyze my feelings, and I have reached some conclusions.
Sometimes an individual gets started on a wrong train of reasoning, and he sees it when he
is far away. Then he finds it hard to get back again. This was my case,
exactly. I did not see as the brethren did, and so I concluded I would leave the
work for the time being. So I went to farming. I have tried to keep my trials
to myself; that I think you all know. I have not seen a day when I did not love my
The most painful thing I had to think of was that my course had been a stone of
stumbling to others, and that I had perhaps caused some one to be lost. I have great
charity for brethren who are in trouble. I myself wanted to know what was right; and
they may say, Why did you not do right? I am satisfied that man's wisdom is not
always reliable. He must have the Spirit of God to guide him, or he will go wrong.
Now I want to say that I have been changed right around in my feelings and
convictions. I do not say I am fully satisfied in everything; but I believe the
truth as I used to believe it. . . .
There is a point that has bothered me a little, and I want to speak of it.
In the twenty-five years I have been with our people, I have traveled from Maine to
California, and I have never known one man who has drawn back and begun to harbor doubts
who did not begin to separate from God. I have never known one who through such a
course has become more spiritual or more anxious to do something to save his fellow
men. I have never known one man to do that, and I do not believe I ever shall.
When I left off preaching, I vowed to myself and to my God, that I would go right along
laboring as I had done, be faithful in the church, and do my duty every time. Well,
brethren, after I had gone that way for a time, I found that I had lost my hold upon
God. I lost my spirituality. Now there must be something wrong about such a
course; for if it is right it seems to me that a man would certainly prosper in that way. . . .
Brethren, I will say this: So far as I am concerned, I will start right here;
and all that I have, all that I am, I will put into this work, and take my risk of
everything. I will never do this backing up any more; and I believe that
if I ever go back from this I am lost. All I have I will give to this
cause. I believe there is in this truth that which will save men. I have see
drunkards saved by it, and the wickedest of men saved by it; and may God help us to
triumph with it when Jesus comes.Ibid. (Italics supplied.)
During the meetings at Otsego, Mrs. White was entertained in the
Canright home. She wrote:
We were made very welcome at their pleasant and comfortable home, which is
conveniently furnished, yet with simplicity. It is indeed a home. All was done
that could be done for our ease and comfort. We were continually grateful to God
that we felt indeed at home, and that Bro. Canright had met with so great a change in his
feelings, that he had been transformed by the sanctifying grace of Christ, and that peace,
and hope, and faith in present truth were again cherished in his heart.
My heart was filled with joy as I looked upon his wife and his children, and
thought, These will follow Eld. Canright in the path of light, and peace, and faith.
While he shall go forth from his family to his labors, responsibilities must rest heavily
upon his companion, to educate and discipline and mold the characters of the dear ones in
her charge. . . .
I felt that peace rested in the plain but comfortable home of Bro. and Sr.
Canright. I could but make melody to God in my heart every moment as I considered
the work that had been wrought so wonderfully in this case. Eld. Canright saved to
the cause! His precious family led into ways of truth and righteousness! I
said in my heart, as I looked upon them, Saved, saved from ruin! If there is joy in
the presence of the angels in heaven, why should there not be joy in our hearts? I
do rejoice, I do praise the Lord, that mine eyes have seen his salvation.Ibid.
Reports of progress in the Review and Herald sounded like old times,
Elders Butler and Canright were in the field working together once again. The two
men held general meetings in Pennsylvania, in Minnesota, and in Iowa, where Canright
doubtless met many of his own converts from the years he had labored there. (Ibid., Jan.
He seemed unable to restrain a constant flow of expressions of joy and renewed
faith. In this same Review he wrote: "I have just returned home form attending
four general meetings, in Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota, and Iowa. . . .
"God has blessed me greatly. While I have carefully read the first,
second, and third volumes of 'Spirit of Prophecy,'Note 1 heaven has seemed very near to me. If the Spirit of God does not speak
to us in these writings, then I should despair of ever discerning
it. . . . God is good, and the sweetest thing on this earth is to love and serve
That winter the Canrights experienced deep grief. Their fourteen-month-old
son, George, died on February 24 at Otsego, Michigan. The father had gone to meet
appointments in New England, leaving a well and happy baby. He returned to
find little George dead. He sat down and wrote a brokenhearted, questioning letter
to Ellen G. White:
We have met with a great affliction to us. Our dear little baby boy is
dead. You will remember him. He was 14 months old the day before he
died. We always supposed he was well and strong. He was so good and playful
and all that we could desire. The children loved him and grandfather's family loved him
almost as much as we did. It seemed as though we needed him to unite all our hearts
Lucy cheerfully and trustingly let me go away off to New England to be gone
several months. Two weeks ago he was taken sick. After waiting one week, she
telegraphed me to come. I still waited five days, hoping he would be better. I
got home to find him dead. It seems as though it could not be so, that we can not
have it so, and yet it is so. Poor Lucy, it almost kills her and my own heart feels
as though it would break.
I can not see why this should come upon us. To others it does not seem to be
any great matter no doubt; but to us it has taken the joy and light out of our home.
I don't know what to think about it. Does the Lord really over-rule all such things,
or do they only happen so? We fasted and prayed earnestly hoping that God would hear
us and spare our child. But he died. Was it then really the will of God that
it should be so? Does it mean that it was for the best? Have you any light
about such things? Is it sure and certain that such little babes will be saved in
the kingdom? I can not believe that all the babes who die in all the world will be
saved. Will it then be those of the righteous only? Does his salvation depend upon
our being righteous? The Bible says but little about children, yet enough to give me
hope. Have you any light on this point? I wish you would tell us if you have
any. I remember that you lost a babe once.
My confidence in the message and all parts of our faith has grown much faster and
stronger than I expected it would. God has blessed me in preaching and
laboring. I have felt very different from what I ever did before. I am sure
that my heart was thoroughly converted to God this time. I have a feeling of sadness
and depression which I wish I could get over. I don't feel as hopeful and as
ambitious as I used to. The joy and love of life some way have dropped out. So
far as I am personally concerned, aside from my family, I had as soon die as live. I
don't want to feel that way. I hope I may feel better and more hopeful
sometime. I feel that I have made so many mistakes and been so far from what I ought
to be, that I have but little courage for the future. But I shall leave no effort
unmade to serve God here and secure eternal life hereafter.
I have read vols. 1-4 of Spirit of Prophecy and also Paul's Life [Sketches From
the Life of Paul]. They have been a great blessing to me. I wish now that I could
have the privilege of being with you a while. I think I should prize it more than I
used to. I really never got down to the bottom of things to understand the nature of
God's work as I do now. It has cleared up many
things to me so that I shall not be as easily troubled over difficulties as in the past.
Hope I may see you at our camp meetings next summer. We are quite well, but
much worn with watching and anxiety. Elder Butler attends the funeral tomorrow. A
very sad house we have tonight, so different from when you were here. Wish you could
write a few lines to Lucy.
Hope God may bless you.
(Signed) D. M. Canright
Letter File 1884 & 1885.
Ellen White was at her Healdsburg home in California when she received this
letter, and her handwritten reply must have been sent without taking time to make a copy
for her files. None is on record. Her sympathetic reply would have been most
interesting and helpful.
To other parents who passed through similar experiences and were troubled with
like questions, Ellen White wrote:
You inquire in regard to your little one being saved. Christ's words are
your answer: "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of
such is the kingdom of God." Remember the prophecy, "Thus saith the Lord; A
voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children
refused to be comforted. . . . Thus saith the Lord: Refrain thy voice from weeping and
thine eyes from tears; for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come
again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord,
that thy children shall come again to thine own border."
This promise is yours. You may be comforted and trust in the Lord. The
Lord has often instructed me that many little ones are to be laid away before the time of
trouble. We shall see our children again. We shall meet them and know them in
the heavenly courts. Put your trust in the Lord, and be not afraid.E. G. White
letter 196, 1899. [Published in Child Guidance, pp. 565, 566.]
1. Ellen G. White's volumes presenting the conflict between the power of righteousness and the power of evil in the age long conflict beginning with the
fall of Lucifer and the fall of man, available in facsimile reprints from this publisher. Patriarchs and Prophets (1890) & The Desire of Ages (1898) replaced these earlier volumes. [back to text]