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I Was Canright's Secretary
by Carrie Johnson

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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 Adventists.

This time, Canright's lapse was a serious one. Elder Butler commented that "so notorious was his apostasy at the time,

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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

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"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 looked different."

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 continued,

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"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 leader.

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 part:

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.

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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 brethren.

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:

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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. 6, 1885.)

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 him."

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 preaching

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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 together.

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

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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.

In hope,
(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.]

End Notes

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]

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