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I Was Canright's Secretary
by Carrie Johnson

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7. Closing Years in Adventist Ministry

WHILE LABORING in New England early in 1885 Elder Canright attended a Salvation Army meeting in a Boston theater. In an article in the Review of February 24, 1885, he expressed strong disapproval of the "jocular, light, and trifling way which was painful to hear." He felt that the meetings lacked solemnity and twice in his article referred to the fact that "not a tear was shed, not a particle of emotion was shown by one of them." The apostle Paul, said Canright, had labored with tears, "both publicly and from house to house." "Bunyan's 'slough of despond' has been filled up. No one falls into it any more. They are converted with a song, saved in a minute, have perfect peace in an hour, and are on the stand as preachers the next night!" Continuing he declared:

I have attended the meeting of Mr. Moody, Mr. Hammond, Mrs. Van Cott, and other prominent revivalists. While Mr. Moody's are much above any of the others, yet in them all there is a lack of that deep, solemn contrition for sin, that used to be. There is a feeling that it is an easy, short work to "come to Jesus, and be saved." Much singing, few prayers, and short anecdotes with more or less witty hits and merriment, are largely the means used. . . . The more I see of it, the more I search the Scriptures, the deeper experience I have in my own heart, the more I am convinced that it is largely a surface work which will not stand the awful test of the Judgment.

After a careful investigation of other religious systems, Canright had satisfied himself that the church of which he was a member was the one that would stand the "awful test of the Judgment."

Through the year 1885 and the early months of 1886,

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nearly every number of the Review carried an article from the pen of D. M. Canright. In a double-column article in the issue of March 24, 1885, he nailed down strongly the indisputable fact of the seventh-day Sabbath and testified as to his faith in it: "The Bible nowhere says," he wrote, "that the first day of the week commemorates the resurrection of Christ; in fact, it is totally silent about any change of the Sabbath whatever."

In the closing paragraph of one entitled "Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord," he expressed his confidence in the near return of Jesus:

"The population of the United States, to a greater degree than that of any other country, is composed of people from every nation. Anything learned here is immediately communicated to the nations whence they came. How fitting, then, that in this nation and at this time should arise the proclamation of the second advent of God's Son to the earth! Everything is favorable; the way is prepared in a marvelous manner to warn the whole world thoroughly and yet briefly. Surely the hand of the Lord is in all this. Happy are those who understand and work in harmony with the providence of God."—Ibid., May 19, 1885.

In one article by Canright entitled "Look at Facts" after enumerating all aspects of the spectacular growth of the Adventist church, both in America and overseas, he asks in conclusion: "Who but a veritable doubting Thomas can find ground for discouragement?

"Really, it seems as though we could almost begin to see Beulah land. If any do not see it near, it is because they are either asleep or are looking the wrong way. Courage, brethren, a few more struggles and the battle will be over!"—Ibid., Feb. 9, 1886

Perhaps Canright's best remembered article of this period appeared in the issue of Feb. 10, 1885, under the title "To Those in Doubting Castle."Note 1

Drawing a lesson from those shut up in Doubting Castle of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, he recounts his own experience and gives counsel, which he hopes will help some and warn

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others who may face some of the same problems. He wrote:

Twenty-five years ago I embraced this message. The complete system of truth which it presented seemed to me something wonderful and very glorious. The study of the Bible was a continual feast to me. To preach it to others, and see them embrace it, filled my heart with gladness and peace. But at length things came up which threw me into doubt on some points, and finally were the occasion of my ceasing to preach the message. As the same things have affected others more or less, and will be liable to affect still others in the future, I wish to give a few of the reasons why I still think that the work is all right, that the Lord is in it, and that these doubts are not well founded. . . .

It is the accepted rule in all the affairs of this life to decide the questions, even where life or death is at stake, by the balance, or preponderance of evidence. The existence of God, the inspiration of the Bible, the truth of Christianity, etc., are accepted and firmly believed upon these grounds. I firmly believe that the truth of our message can be just as clearly proved in the same manner. It is by ignoring this rule of evidence that men become skeptical concerning God, the Holy Scriptures, and all religious faith. In just the same way some of our people come to be doubters concerning our message, the testimonies, etc. They let a few light objections on one side outweigh a mountain of truth on the other.

After drawing lessons from Bible history Canright turned to the Seventh-day Adventist church and came at once to the point that had been a stumbling block to him—Ellen G. White and the testimonies. He drives in stake after stake as he enumerates incontrovertible evidences for the validity of the work of Ellen White and of her messages. He closes his article with this affirmation:

I find that there is peace and joy, hope and confidence, love for souls, and the blessing of God in giving full confidence to the whole message; and these I have never found in doubting it, nor have I ever seen any one who did find them that way. All admit that we have truth enough, if lived out, to save us. We know that all other churches have many errors. How shall we gain anything, then, by going there? Start a new church of our own? Well, the success of those who have left us and tried that has not been very encouraging.

No, the real trouble lies close at home, in a proud, unconverted heart, a lack of real humility, an unwillingness to submit to God's way of finding the truth.—Ibid.

From April 23 until mid-May of 1885, Canright, with other leading ministers, attended a special course at our school at South Lancaster, Massachusetts. Its aim was to help to prepare workers for the solemn times facing the church.

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It was felt that those attending would have the benefit of "experience and instruction." (Ibid., April 14, 1885.)

Early summer found Elder and Mrs. Canright and five assistants conducting a tent meeting in Worcester, Massachusetts, "the last place I should have chosen," he declared. "We secured a prominent location. . . . We advertised thoroughly with large posters and handbills, and through the daily papers. We began Saturday evening, June 13, in the most remarkable place for boys that I ever saw; they literally swarmed. The first evening we had a hundred and fifty boys and about sixty grown persons; but we succeeded in securing good order."—Ibid., June 23, 1885. The next night, to the relief of the tent company, the proportions were reversed.

His report of the Pennsylvania camp meeting held in early June which he attended appears in that same number of the Review. The young people on the grounds received special attention. Two services a day were held with them and with the children. "There was also a class of perhaps twenty small children under ten years of age. . . . Here is another thing," Canright pointed out, "that ought to be attended to on the camp-ground. Some good sister could gather the young children once or twice a day, and give them very valuable instruction during the meetings."—Ibid. This was a forerunner of the well-planned kindergarten, primary, and junior meetings that now operate at every Adventist camp meeting.

That summer Canright reported to Mrs. White:

Myself and wife are real well. Lucy is improving as a worker so that I find her excellent help almost anywhere. As for myself, the old difficulties which I had, as you know, have been removed. I think I see now clearer and better than ever I did before. There was always something that bothered me because I did not have a right understanding of it. I feel as though my faith and confidence are stronger and on a more solid basis than ever before. I think that the evidence is rapidly increasing that this is the Lord's special work. I have no other thought but to give every energy of my life to it. I pray God will bless you, and give you strength to do the work you are so much needed to do. It would be worth a good deal to us if you could be here a few days now. It may be that you can come here yet this summer.

Your brother in the faith,
(Signed) D. M. Canright
—Letter, June 23, 1885.

That summer Ellen White did pay the Canrights a visit.

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She was on her way to Europe and as she was to sail from Boston she planned a few days' rest with old friends at South Lancaster. Instead of a rest, she found several speaking appointments awaiting her. At nearby Worcester on the evening of July 31 she spoke to a well-filled tent.

On Sabbath morning before breakfast she wrote twenty-two pages for the Review and Herald, then she preached during the church service—again in the tent. The following morning she rose at 4:00 a.m. to write, while there would be no interruptions. Again, that evening, she spoke. The tent was more crowded than it had been before. The next day she left for South Lancaster, "to see the church there and to rest." (Manuscript 16a, 1885.)

On Thursday she "again visited Worcester, held a meeting with the missionary workers there, and then returned to Lancaster" (Historical Sketches of Foreign Missions of Seventh-day Adventists, p. 161).

Mrs. White had stayed in the "Mission House" with the band of missionary workers. Over the dinner table they discussed plans of work, and enjoyed one another's company.

After her departure for Europe, Canright wrote appreciatively of her visit. About forty new converts had been made, he said, and baptisms were being conducted regularly.

The end of that busy summer found the Canrights heading for their Otsego home. They had left a little company of new believers in Worcester, ten of whom Canright himself had baptized. He had received a blessing in "searching out and defending the truth." Also, he was still singing Lucy's praises. As a pastor's wife and as a musician, she excelled. At home they found Lucretia's children, Genevieve and Fred, "well and doing nicely." The little family was happy to be reunited. (D. M. Canright letter, Sept. 30, 1885.)

In January, 1886, the first Sabbath school convention was held in Otsego. Both of Mrs. White's sons, Edson and Willie,Note 2 were present. Concerning the convention, Canright wrote:

I never saw more interest in a meeting than there was in this, early and late and to the close. Everybody was pleased. The boys made a fine team

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and we hardly know which did the best. They seem to be just adapted to the work. It also gave them new interest in the Sabbath School cause. . . .

Mother Hadden remarked that you had reason to be proud of two such boys, they seemed to work together so nicely.

We have had remarkable success with a Sunday School in our church. Lucy took hold of it at the beginning of winter. . . . By hard work and much visiting the attendance has reached 130. They come from the best families in the place. It has opened a grand field of missionary work for our church. Why would it not be a good plan for other churches to do the same?—Letter, Jan. 12, 1886.

Lucy continued the story:

If one of our pupils is absent, we are sure to go and call on him and take him the Instructor. . . . I have been greatly blessed in the work and believe the Lord has helped us. My whole heart is in it.—Lucy H. Canright letter, Jan. 16, 1886.

Then she reported on the Sabbath school convention.

Edson and Willie worked together very harmoniously. It seemed that what one could not think of the other could. We wished many times you were here. The Lord helped them. At the last meeting they both talked so good. They stayed with us and had the room you had when you were here a year ago. Bro. Willie will tell you all about it. Our people feel to thank God that you have two such noble boys.—Ibid.

Mrs. White spent the full year 1886 in Europe at church headquarters in Switzerland. Elder Canright found time to write interesting, friendly letters to her such as the following:

Battle Creek, Michigan
February 17, 1886

Dear Sister:—

Knowing that you are always interested in matters here, I will write you a few lines. My family are well and doing well. Vievi is coming up to be much like her mother, a real little lady and a Christian too, I believe. Fred is as good as a boy need to be, though more full of fun as yet. Both take a deep interest in the Sabbath school and love the truth. Lucy worked too hard in her Sunday School and so ran down some. Is now with me a while to rest. Her heart is in the work and she is a great help anywhere. I never felt better physically. Can work hard all the time and feel well, too. My courage is good and I love the work.

For a while I was teaching Bro. Smith's class in the college. I like it better than anything I have ever done. We have our room full. Bro. Smith had so much to do that he had to have help a while. I assist on the new paper ["The Gospel Sickle"], speak in the tabernacle, and help wherever I can. We are now thinking of preaching in the Sanitarium every Friday evening on the truth. Have tried it and it takes well. . . .

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Well there, Sister White, pardon me for writing all this to you. Where I am wrong just lay it onto me and I will take it like a major. . . .

May the Lord bless you and encourage you in all your hard work.

Your brother,
(Signed) D. M. Canright.

The teaching he referred to was done three weeks before the close of the long winter term at Battle Creek College. Elder Uriah Smith, instructor in Biblical exegesis, had found it impossible to finish his work, because of failing health. Elder Canright filled out the three remaining weeks of the school year so successfully that it was decided by the college board to employ him the next school term as an assistant to Elder Smith. Then, when school opened and Uriah Smith was occupied with other tasks, Elder Canright organized the class and continued it for five weeks. Thus for a total of eight weeks he filled a teaching position at the church's principal college.

I mention these details for the reason that upon this brief appointment he would later elaborate. He was also one of five members of an editorial committee of a short-lived missionary paper entitled The Gospel Sickle.

At about this same time Canright was asked to prepare eleven Sabbath School lessons, which were to appear in The Youth's Instructor. Also, in plans made for a ministerial coverage of Seventh-day Adventist churches in Michigan, he was asked to make contacts in a given area, which he numbered as eighteen. He served on the executive committees of several denominational organizations. His articles in Adventist journals were read with interest. Two books carried his name: The Bible from Heaven, a revision and enlargement of a volume originally published by Moses Hull; and The Doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul, a volume of 186 pages that he himself had written. In addition to these, he authored four pamphlets of approximately one hundred pages each, and 15 tracts of some 24 to 32 pages each.

About this time his old recurring weaknesses began to reappear. Canright's name was widely known. This did not displease him. He was talented, highly esteemed, and greatly respected as a Seventh-day Adventist church leader.

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But those close to him understood well his weak points. Butler reported:

When everything went pleasantly, he could usually see things with clearness. When he was "abused," as he always thought he was when things did not go to suit him, the evidences of our faith began immediately to grow dim. Dark clouds of unbelief floated over his mental sky, and he felt that everything was going by the board. Here was the Elder's special weakness. He is a strong man in certain directions when all goes smoothly, but very weak in adversity. He failed to "endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." He was good in a fight, and appeared at best advantage when in a hot debate. This was his forte. But when things apparently were against him, he seemed to have no staying, recuperative qualities.—Review and Herald Extra, December, 1887.

As we have noted before, Butler also observed that Canright's "desire to have his own way sometimes got him into trouble. He never could bear reproof with patience, or feel composed when his way was crossed. When he came to mingle in important matters with brethren in prominent positions, these and other traits naturally got him into trouble."—Ibid.

It appears likely that these traits, observed by his brethren, constituted the reason why he was repeatedly passed by when choices were made for the president of the General Conference, or the presidents of State conferences, or the president of the Michigan Conference in the fall of 1886.

Elder E. R. Potter, long-time minister in Michigan, reports:

About the year 1918 a cousin of Eld. D. M. Canright came to our home and spent a few days. I asked this cousin what he knew about D. M. Canright. He replied "I will tell you one thing. Just before he left the denomination Eld. Canright came to the [1886] Michigan camp meeting with his team and I took care of his horses. On that occasion my cousin said, 'If I am not elected President of this Conf[erence] at this meeting I am not going to preach for them any more.'"—Statement concerning D. M. Canright by Ray Birmingham, Alma, Michigan, Sept. 7, 1947.

George I. Butler, not D. M. Canright, was elected president of the Michigan conference.

End Notes

1. For the full article see Appendixes. [back to text]

2. W. C. White having accompanied his mother to Europe in August, 1885, returned for a few months to attend to a number of urgent matters relating to the work in both America and Europe. [back to text]

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