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I Was Canright's Secretary
by Carrie Johnson

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8. Canright Boards the Phantom Ship

WELL ALONG in the 1880's, the perils that endangered Elder Canright were opened to Mrs. Ellen G. White in symbolic representation. The warning was passed on the him in the following letter:

Dear Brother Canright:Note 1

I had an impressive dream last night. I thought that you were on a strong vessel, sailing on very rough waters. Sometimes the waves beat over the top, and you were drenched with water. You said: "I shall get off; this vessel is going down."

"No," said one who appeared to be the captain, "this vessel sails into the harbor. She will never go down."

But you answered: "I shall be washed overboard. As I am neither captain or mate, who cares? I shall take my chances on that vessel you see yonder."

Said the captain: "I shall not let you go there, for I know that vessel will strike the rocks before she reaches the harbor."

You straightened yourself up, and said with great positiveness: "This vessel will become a wreck; I can see it just as plain as can be."Note 2

The captain looked upon you with piercing eye, and said firmly: "I shall not permit you to lose your life by taking that boat. The timbers of her framework are worm-eaten, and she is a deceptive craft. If you had more knowledge you could discern between the spurious and the genuine, the holy and that appointed to utter ruin."

I awoke, but it is this dream that leads me to write to you. I was feeling deeply over some of these things when a letter came, saying that you were "under great temptation and trial." What is it, Brother Canright? Is Satan tempting you again? Is God permitting you to be brought to the same

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place where you have failed before? Will you now let unbelief take possession of your soul? Will you fail every time, as did the children of Israel? God help you to resist the evil and to come forth stronger from every trial of your faith!

Be careful how you move. Make straight paths for your feet. Close the door to unbelief and make God your strength. If perplexed, hold still; make no move in the dark. I am deeply concerned for your soul. This may be the last trial that God will grant you. Advance not one step in the downward road to perdition. Wait, and God will help you. Be patient, and the clear light will appear. If you yield to impressions you will lose your soul, and the soul is of great value with God.—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 571.

But he could not wait. In January, 1887, he took the position that he would be a Seventh-day Adventist no longer. He informed his old friend Elder George I. Butler, president of the Michigan Conference and of the General Conference, of his decision.

On February 17, 1887, Elder Canright in a formal way took the step he had been counseled and warned not to take. He left the "strong vessel" to board a phantom craft, which, it seem to him, gave greater promise.

In his statement made at the business meeting of the Otsego church upon which its action was based, Elder Canright made it plain:

That he had come to a point where he no longer believed that the Ten Commandments were binding upon Christians and had given up the Law, the Sabbath, the Messages, the Sanctuary, our position upon [the] U[nited] S[tates] in prophecy, the Testimonies, health reform, the ordinances of humility. He also said that he did not believe the Papacy had changed the Sabbath. And though he did not directly state it, his language intimated that he would probably keep Sunday.

He thinks that Seventh-day Adventists are too narrow in their ideas, and that in quoting so much as they do from the Old Testament are going back into the moonlight rather than experiencing the sunlight of the gospel of Christ. He thought we were exalting the law above Christ. Also has no faith in the missionary work as conducted by our people, feels as if it is not the way God designed to do the work.

He still claimed to believe that the coming of Christ was near, making the same application of Daniel 2 and 7 and Matthew 24 that he always had, but did not believe that there was to be any special message preceding Christ's second coming in the sense in which Seventh-day Adventists teach.—Church clerk's record, Feb. 17, 1887, Otsego, Michigan, SDA church.

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The church could do no other than drop his name on the grounds of apostasy. His wife, Lucy, who took nearly the same position, was also dropped.

Elder Butler's report of the meeting, over which he presided, reflects the careful spirit in which the matter was handled:

February 17, he [D. M. Canright] gave his reasons in public before the Otsego church, of which he was a member. The writer was present. In his remarks concerning our people and the treatment he had received among us, he was very kind and conciliatory. He stated that he thought there was a larger percentage of true Christians among our people than among any other denomination with which he was acquainted. He expressed a high appreciation of, and confidence in, some of our leading men, believing them to be honest, devoted servants of Christ. He said he was perfectly satisfied with the treatment he had received among Seventh-day Adventists. He had no fault to find with them on that score, and felt that they had used him in all respects as well as Christians should.—Review and Herald Extra, December, 1887.

Ellen G. White was still in Europe when Canright took his fateful step. She immediately wrote to him, and he replied. A portion of his letter, with emphasis supplied, is quoted:

Otsego, Michigan
March 18, 1887

Mrs. E. G. White
Basel, Switzerland

Dear Sister:

Your kind and friendly letter was received some days since. . . . Thank you for your efforts to help me. You have learned before this the position which I have taken. I know it will grieve you as it has my friends in America. It cost me a terrible struggle to do it. Of course it would be of no use for either of us to argue the question now. My mind is fully settled and my course decided. Whether I have decided right or wrong the judgment must tell. Sister White, believe me when I say I wish you and our people well and hope that you may help to save some and reach eternal life with them.

Of course I have to think you are mistaken in some things, though thoroughly sincere in it. For my part I earnestly wish that there might continue to be a friendly feeling between me and our people. On my part it shall be so. . . .

My wife and family go with me. . . .

Yours in hope,
D. M. Canright

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Lucy, it is true, followed her husband out of the Adventist church. But her husband recorded that "she cried when circumstances separated her from these old ties" (Review and Herald, June 12, 1913).

As to Elder Canright's future plans, Elder Butler reported that "he expected to unite with the Methodists, Baptists, or some other evangelical denomination, and continue to labor in the ministry as long as he lived" (Ibid., Extra, December, 1887).

Perhaps it is well to observe that Canright, now an ex-Seventh-day Adventist, was not certain as to which flag he would, in the future, sail under. It might be the Methodist, Baptist, or some other. He soon chose the Baptist banner.

On March 5, 1887, Mr. and Mrs. Canright and their daughter Veva (Genevieve) applied for membership in the Otsego, Michigan, Baptist church and were accepted. On March 6 he occupied the pulpit and on March 17 was given a license by them to preach. He was ordained as a Baptist minister on April 19, and served the local Otsego congregation.

When Canright left the Adventist church and joined the Baptists, his elderly mother, living in Colorado, was deeply grieved. W. A. Spicer, who had been acquainted with D. M. Canright from 1884 on, in recounting experiences of earlier days wrote of this:

She was one of the old-line Seventh-day Adventists, right in Christian experience, happy in the blessed hope, the hope of the second coming of Christ to gather His people, which was the joy and rejoicing of the apostle Paul and all new Testament believers. While our former minister was representing to the people of the great churches that he was finding great blessing in being free from "legalism," as he called obedience to the commandments of God, would he not want this good old mother to have the same experience. Not at all. Apparently our old associate had no inclination to lead that mother of his into the new way.—Ibid., Jan. 13, 1949.

The turning aside of the son never caused the mother's faith to waver. She lived to a ripe old age, falling asleep in Christ in 1904.

The local newspaper, the Otsego Union, of May 20 carried a D. M. Canright article entitled "The Reason Why," in which he explained to his neighbors and friends in the

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community his change of allegiance from Seventh-day Adventism to the Baptist church. In a series of Sunday night meetings during May and June he dealt with the Sabbath, the historical evidence for keeping Sunday, and on June 17 announced that he would speak the next Sunday evening on "Mrs. White and the Visions."

The congregation evidently was pleased with Canright's performance, and on July 3, 1887, engaged him for a year as their pastor, the members subscribing to a plan to pay him ten dollars a week.

He was invited to speak in nearby communities against the Adventists. C. A. Russell recounts how just at this time Mr. Canright came to their vicinity near Allegan, Michigan, where shortly before his apostasy he had helped to bind off a small evangelistic effort and had baptized several into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Now a Baptist, he was hired by the Disciples group to come back and preach against the Adventists. Russell reports:

He delivered three lectures. Father went to hear him all through. I didn't go, but father felt that if he didn't go the neighbors would say, "Russell didn't dare to go and hear on the other side." The third night he devoted almost exclusively to Sister White and her work, called her an Adventist pope, a deceiver of the people, an imposter [sic], and holding her up to ridicule in every way that one could think of. . . .

When the harangue was over, but just before dismissal, a rough old fellow sitting in the back of the congregation, blurted out, "Well, Elder, how do you think old Mother White will come out in the judgment anyhow?"

Father said Canright stood there for a full minute and never said a word. He didn't seem to know what to say and then he said this: "I believe she is a good woman and will be saved in the kingdom of God, and I only wish I were as good a man as she is a woman." I have never forgotten the exact words as father repeated them to us that night.—C. A. Russel Statement to W. C. White, Feb. 18, 1935.

Records of the time would seem to indicate that Mr. Canright was at first well received by his Baptist friends in the local community. Favorable testimonials, such as the following, appeared in newspapers:

Otsego, Michigan, May 6, 1888

This is to certify that Rev. D. M. Canright has been a faithful and efficient pastor for us the past year, and that God, through him, has accomplished

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a glorious work for our church. He won the love and confidence of his people. We were glad to secure his services for another year.

Done by the order of the church.
Mrs. Ida M. Wheeler, Clerk

The circumstances that would call for such statements in the public press are difficult to imagine, unless for some reason Canright felt insecure in his new environment. No such lauditory [sic] published notices ever appeared while he was with the Adventists. From this time on, however, the record shows that there was a flow of testimonials, the wording of which often sounds strangely like Canright's phraseology. These testimonials were early to figure in certain discussions involving Canright and his relationships. But more of that later.

He continued to pastor the Otsego church and in 1888 accepted a renewal of his contract. After serving a few months in his second term, he asked to be relieved of his pastorate as of October 1, 1888. The reason given, he explained, was that he might have more time to devote to his writing in his anti-Adventist crusade.

However, there seem to be indications that all may not have been going well with Canright in his relationships with the Baptists. It was only natural that these relationships were watched with interest by his former Adventist brethren and fellow ministers, who were so well acquainted with him, and, quite naturally, as Canright entered upon a work of opposing Seventh-day Adventists, information on his relationships with his new friends was frequently conveyed from one to another in personal correspondence. Elder E. J. Waggoner, careful and responsible editor of the Signs of the Times, wrote as follows:

From a letter in my possession dated Jan. 18, 1889, written by Elder I. D. Van Horn, president of the Michigan Conference, I quote the following concerning Mr. Canright:

"He is certainly losing influence among his own [Baptist] people. The first evidence I had of this was about one year ago. He went to Grand Rapids and made application for the first Baptist church, to speak against Seventh Day Adventism, and the pastor, Rev. Mr. Tupper, one of the first men in his denomination in the State, with the deacons of his church, decided against him, and would not let him into the house for that purpose. I have it

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direct from one of the deacons, Mr. Buchanan, a dentist in that city. I went to see him personally and he was free to tell me all about it.

"Another evidence I have from a Baptist minister, about six months ago, who then lived in Otsego, and who had formerly been pastor of the church of which Canright was pastor for a year and a half, the fact that Canright was losing the confidence of his members, by trying to enforce the tithing system on them, and for showing no special regard for Baptist usages, and because of which many of his members were leaving.

"From another source I heard that this congregation had come down from 200 to 25, and he was obliged to resign his pastorate, which he did some five or six months ago. There were only twenty-five present to hear his farewell sermon.

"Another evidence is from Sister Oviatt (whose husband is now a Baptist minister)Note 3 of Hastings, Michigan, through Elder L. G. Moore, one of our most faithful brethren, who has long lived in Hastings, we have the fact that Sister Oviatt has heard at different times very disparaging remarks about Canright, from some of the leading Baptist ministers, as they have been at her house talking with her husband. Some of these remarks showed the feeling of these ministers that Canright seemed so important and overbearing."

Now about that testimonial which Mr. Canright published from the clerk of the church in Otsego. Whoever will look at his articleNote 4 will see that that testimonial is not dated: but the same thing is given in his book, where it bears date May, 1888, nearly a year ago. But that doesn't matter much anyway, as it is not a very difficult thing for anybody to get testimonials. The polity of the Baptists is such that if a preacher can find a single society, or part of a society, that will acknowledge him, he cannot be shaken off, although he may be despised by the great body of Baptists. It is often unfortunate for the Baptist's denomination that such is the case, but so it is. Mr. Canright was wise in selecting that body when he left the Adventists.

One thing more about his resignation from the Baptist church in Otsego. He himself has never told anybody here why he resigned, but you have the reasons in Elder Van Horn's letter. In corroboration of that statement, I will state that shortly before his resignation, a part of his church went to the Seventh-day Adventists in Otsego, to get their house of worship so that they could hold a separate meeting. Perhaps Mr. Canright can tell a plausible story to explain why they could not worship with him, but the fact is that he was very soon seized with a spirit of resignation. . . .

"I did not make my statements rashly. I have given my evidence, and it will stand although Mr. Canright may rail against it."—E. J. Waggoner, in Healdsburg Enterprise, Feb. 27, 1889.

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That same number of the Enterprise carries another strong testimonial in Elder Canright's defense signed by Mrs. Wheeler, of the Otsego Baptist church.

Pains were taken by Mr. Canright to secure other testimonials from neighbors, friends, and business acquaintances, attesting to his good character and his integrity in business transactions. However, it should be noted that these points had not been challenged by his former brethren. Yet, to him they apparently seemed essential in the light of the course he had taken. Subsequently these testimonials were frequently seen in the press and in introductions to his published works.

Residing in Otsego, he at times preached and served otherwise in the church when at home, and was on several occasions delegated by his church to represent them in certain general meetings. At such times he served on temporary committees and at least once acted as chairman.

In late September, 1890, D. M. Canright with his family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan. He had been unable to sell his Otsego home and held this for another two years, until it was purchased by his father-in-law.

The Otsego church commended the Canright family to the Wealthy Avenue Baptist church in Grand Rapids. Apparently Mr. Canright had spent some time in Grand Rapids. There are references to his assisting in meetings being held in the north part of the city and then going to a church that was organized on June 5, 1892, with 50 charter members who had transferred from the Fountain Street Baptist church. It took the name Berean Baptist church, and they claimed the "Rev. D. M. Canright" as their "first pastor." In this capacity he served for one year and a half. The reasons for his resignation at that time are not known, but two years later he served for another year, again as pastor, from October, 1895, to October, 1896. (History of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Church Directory, p. 1170.) Doubtless the intervening years were spent largely in the preparation of articles for publication and in the handling and distribution of his book Seventh-day Adventism Renounced.

After his second term as pastor of the Berean Baptist church closed in October, 1896, he moved to South Bend,

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Indiana, and then to Toledo, Ohio, where he engaged in door-to-door selling of religious books. Three years later he returned to Grand Rapids.

The records indicate that in that year he was listed as an ordained Baptist minister in the State of Michigan, who, though not holding a pastorate, was issued yearly credentials, a practice followed subsequently, except possibly during the interval between 1904 and 1907. While members of the Berean Baptist church, and members of the Canright family have testified that his counsel was often sought by the Baptist brethren, there is no record that Canright served actively for the Baptists after 1897, when he should have been in his prime.

It thus becomes increasingly clear that, as Mr. Canright sailed his phantom craft in the Baptist fleet, he was never called to the bridge of the flagship, nor to any position beyond that of a locally elected pastor of two medium-sized congregations. He proudly displayed, in carefully worded testimonials, the positions of responsibility to which he had been elevated by Seventh-day Adventists—author, teacher, committeeman, executive—but under his new flag those with whom he associated never saw fit to honor him with any office higher than that of local church pastor, and this for only brief periods of time. The thoughtful reader may ponder why Mr. Canright, who held positions of trust as an Adventist and served the Baptists in two communities, was not considered by the latter as one to whom some major position in the Baptist church should be entrusted. Instead, we find him in his later years gaining a livelihood by going from door to door selling and laboring with his hands.

The Baptists should be commended for their method of handling the case of the man who sailed a phantom craft under their banner. He was treated as a brother and elected pastor of two local churches for a little less than four years. He also represented these two churches at Baptist conferences; but he was never trusted at the helm of any major interest of that denomination.

End Notes

1. The initial "M" in place of the name is used in the letter as published in the "Testimonies," vol. 5, p. 571. [back to text]

2. A phrase often employed by D. M. Canright in conversation. [back to text]

3. Note: D. B. Oviatt was ordained a Baptist minister the same day as was D. M. Canright. [back to text]

4. For the circumstances of statements from D. M. Canright and E. J. Waggoner published in the Healdsburg Enterprise see reference to Canright's trip West in early 1889, his debate with Wm. Healey, and the reports of the public press. See pages 95, 96. While this must have been the case with the copy which Waggoner saw, other copies are dated. [back to text]

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