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9. Crusade Against the Adventists
ON THE evening of February 17, 1887, when Mr. and Mrs. Canright and their daughter Genevieve were separated from the Seventh-day Adventist church, Elder George I. Butler, chairman of the meeting, reported that the transaction was carried out with no ill will. Christian charity was manifested on the part of the officers of the church from which he was separating and by Mr. Canright himself. "He professed," Butler stated, "the most pacific intentions concerning us, saying that he should never pursue the course some others had who have left us, becoming bitter assailants of our people, but should give himself to revival and Christian work, which was the work of his choice. He was utterly sick of the debating and fighting spirit. He had formerly had some love for such things, but now his only desire was to labor for the salvation of souls. He expressed himself very strongly on this point, and said that he never could become a Campbellite, a first-day Adventist, or a Seventh-day Baptist. He was opposed to their fighting spirit, and expressed strong dislike for them."Review and Herald Extra, December, 1887.
Canright asked Elder Butler if he might make a brief statement to his former Adventist friends through the Review and Herald. He was permitted to do this. After giving some explanations of his recent action he said, "Personally I have not one word of fault to find either with the church where I live or with those with whom I have labored. I have been treated justly, liberally, and tenderly. There is not one hard
feeling between us as far as I know. It will always give me pleasure to regard our people and speak of them as an honest and devout people."Ibid., March 1, 1887. (Italics supplied.)
The Seventh-day Adventist church leaders were determined to give Mr. Canright no cause for complaint. A friendly correspondence continued between him and Elder Butler. In the ensuing months Canright's name appeared only a time or two in the columns of the Review. One note, however, commenting on the welfare of the church at Otsego, speaks of "the report of his apostasy." That one word "apostasy" was to Mr. Canright a red flag indicating to him that the truce was broken. Now, quite contrary to his declared intention, he began to wage war against the Seventh-day Adventist church, selecting Mrs. E. G. White as his specific object of attack.
The religious press of the United States soon became the recipient of a number of articles from D. M. Canright, written with the purpose of "exposing Adventism." He made himself available for lectures against Adventists and Mrs. White "on the basis of $2 per night." Even so the Adventist leaders determined to remain silent, quite certain that the public, through the spirit Canright manifested, could well judge his reliability as a witness. But an old friend and fellow minister, protesting against his new course of action, wrote a letter to him doubtless typical of others:
In September, 1887, Seventh-day Adventists held a large camp meeting at Grand Rapids, Michigan. Articles from Canright's pen bitterly attacking them appeared in the newspapers. Their publication coincided with the opening of the meeting. Canright had also prepared handbills containing some of these articles. They were widely circulated throughout the city and among crowds of people attending the West Michigan Fair. Those intent on distributing such material even appeared on the Adventist campground on Sunday, circulating handbills designed to prejudice people against Mrs. White, who was one of the speakers, and against the Seventh-day Adventist church generally.
How very strange this seemed! Only half a year earlier he had solemnly pledged that he would never pursue such a course. Now the use of that one word apostasy was taken by him as the signal to fight. And fight he would. In his bitter tirade against the Adventists, Ellen G. White and the visions became his focal points of attack.
The reader may well ask, Why should his attack lie first in this area? How could a woman, whom he claimed to know so well and of whom he had repeatedly written in sincere and glowing terms, become the object of such bitterness? To those who had been close friends and associates during his Adventist days, this was no great mystery.
As we have seen: "He never could bear reproof with patience, or feel composed when his way was crossed. . . . He always hated reproof, hence bore it like a fractious child."Review and Herald Extra, December, 1887.
Canright himself dated his first serious backset to that visit he and Lucretia had made to Colorado in 1873, described in chapter 3. Off and on during the intervening years, as the reader has seen, a resentment against Ellen White's written reproofNote 1 had simmered and smoldered, although its aim had been to correct weaknesses in his and Lucretia's characters, and he had declared more than once that the messages had accomplished this work.
The Canright correspondence reveals that other dark periods in his experience bear a time relationship to his receiving messages of counsel and admonition from the pen of Ellen G. White. As noted earlier, Canright himself had spoken of this freely and fully in his confession at the Michigan campground in October, 1884. (See chapter 6, "If I ever Go Back.")
As he received a number of messages of counsel and reproof, he had come to see that "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." And the assurance is given, "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" (Hebrews 12:6, 7). Canright had written long articles, presenting in clear-cut terms the reasons for his confidence in the messages coming to Seventh-day Adventists through the pen of Ellen G. White.
He had asked: "But are there not difficulties in these writings hard to explain? passages which seem to conflict
with one another, or with some passage in the Bible, or with facts? I freely grant for myself that there are some passages which bother me, and which I do not know how to explain. But I believe them for all that just as I do the Bible. There are many passages in the Bible which I should have to admit I could not explain nor harmonize. If any man says that he can explain and reconcile all the statements of the Scriptures, he simply shows his self-conceit and ignorance. Yet I profoundly believe the Bible for all that." Then he adds:
"And now I want to reason awhile with those among us who are holding off and living in doubt about the testimonies. I believe that your course is not only wrong, but that it is unsatisfactory to you here, and will be unsatisfactory at the Judgment."Review and Herald, Feb. 10, 1885.
Other men and women in the work of the church had learned well the blessing that followed a wholehearted acceptance of testimonies of correction and reproof. But this was hard for Canright. Ellen White declared that "he has used every check put on him by myself as a cause to throw himself" (Ellen G. White letter 13, 1887). And so he did. Elder Butler emphasized Canright's experience in fighting the Testimonies in several letters addressed to Dr. J. H. Kellogg, when he, too, was in peril of taking the same course. On May 10, 1904, he wrote:
A few days later Butler wrote again to Dr. Kellogg:
These statements help us to answer the question of why, so soon after leaving Seventh-day Adventists, Mr. Canright made Ellen G. White his special object of attack.
Available records indicate that Mr. Canright, in responding to calls for his services in various Protestant churches, sometimes made extensive journeys. One such trip was made to California early in 1889, at the request of the Pastors' Union of Healdsburg. Healdsburg, the location of the second college established by Seventh-day Adventists, was quite a strong denominational center in the West. There Mr. Canright entered into debate with one of his former Adventist brethren, Elder William Healey. The character and work of Ellen G. White figured prominently in this debate.
In the public press it was reported that "Mr. Canright emptied himself before the debate began. His part in the debate was simply a rehash or repetition of what he had already
said in his previous course of lectures. At the close of these lectures the Pastors' Union . . . would better have allowed him to depart. The debate added nothing to the evidence against the Adventists. It merely gave them an opportunity to reply, before a very large audience, to Mr. Canright's attack upon them. . . .
"(Mr. Canright had written them that the Adventists would not meet him in debate.) The Adventists did accept the challenge."Healdsburg Enterprise, March 9, 1889.
At the close of the arguments, public sentiment was declared to be divided as is frequently the case in debates. But there was "an increased want of sympathy for the Pastors' Union," who had invited Canright to debate in Healdsburg. "There has not been so much bitterness between neighbors in Healdsburg since the war, as now." In conclusion the report stated that religious persecution has never succeeded in weakening the cause attacked.
As observed earlier, Mr. Canright resigned his pastorate of the Otsego Baptist church after serving it for fifteen months, to have, as he reported, more time for writing. The fruit of this labor soon appeared in ten eight-page pamphlets entitled "Adventism Refuted in a Nutshell." Number Four was entitled "Mrs. White and Her Visions."
Quite naturally, Mr. Canright's writings were welcomed by religious groups desiring to refute the teachings of Seventh-day Adventists.
His published statements were accepted with rejoicing and used extensively. In the year 1889 he brought out his 413-page book Seventh-day Adventism Renounced. In six years' time there were three printings. Its circulation extended to a number of countries outside the United States, and it gave promise of being an effective weapon against Adventist teachings. Many who read it soon observed inconsistencies in its arguments and detected the author's bitterness. Others found it a conscience-soothing document, one that relieved them from further investigation of Adventist teachings.
When, in 1889, Canright's mother heard that her son had written a book against the faith he had once held dear, she wrote him, asking, "'Will you not send me a copy of the
book? I want to see it.'" Her son replied, "No, Mother. . . . It is not a book for you to read. It was not written for people like you. It would only trouble and disturb you."W. A. Spicer, in the Review and Herald, January 13, 1949.
By 1919, the year of Canright's death, fourteen printings had been made of his book; more have since been printed. The work attempts to refute the teachings that for twenty-two years he had so confidently proclaimed for the public desk.
These points Seventh-day Adventists dealt with clearly during Mr. Canright's lifetime. The book In Defense of the Faith,Note 3 by W. H. Branson, currently available from this publisher, is a standard work that answers the arguments contained in Canright's volume, usually in Mr. Canright's own words spoken while he was an Adventist. Not Canright's literary style, not any soundness of argumentonly the fact that his book professes to expose Seventh-day Adventism has led to its continued existence and to its distribution.
Seventh-day Adventists early noted that "there is one point connected with this raid of Canright's. . . . It is the eagerness with which his attacks have been received by leading religious papers and by the Protestant ministry even in Europe, Australia, and the most distant parts of the world."Ibid., Extra, December, 1887.
In 1915 a second book authored by D. M. Canright appeared on the market entitled The Lord's Day From Neither Catholics nor Pagans. Never receiving much acclaim or enjoying popularity, it soon passed out of print.
One interesting feature of this book is a half-page statement of commendation of the author, uniquely characteristic of the three Canright books. In this case the statement precedes the author's preface. It is dated September 23, 1915, and carries the signature of A. J. Bush, church clerk, Berean Baptist church. Twice in the brief statement the man eulogized is referred to as "Elder Canright." It is interesting to note that Baptists generally use the term reverend, not elder,
when they are addressing or speaking of their ministers.
The thoughtful reader immediately asks: Was it because the church clerk in writing of the "Pastor Emeritus," considered Canright more Adventist than Baptist? Or was it that Canright himself wrote the statement and inadvertently, and from the long habit, used the term elder? In so doing he may have unwittingly revealed his true feeling by using Adventist terminology rather than Baptist. The statement appears on page 20 of his book. Here is the statement:
"The Berean Baptist church was raised up by Elder Canright and organized June 5, 1892, with fifty members. Since then four hundred and fifty have been baptized into the church. It has prospered steadily from the first. Its membership now is three hundred and thirty-one and steadily increasing. Its location is one of the best in our city of 120,000. It has a good church edifice with all modern conveniences and is clear of debt. In the city and state it is recognized as one among the most alive, aggressive, and strictly evangelical Baptist churches.
"The church has always acknowledged with gratitude the work Elder Canright did under God in starting it on a solid Scriptural foundation, which it has always zealously maintained." (Italics supplied.)
The last book Canright wrote, Life of Mrs. E. G. White, published in 1919, the year of his death, reveals his true spirit without moderation. Bitterness and misrepresentations fill the 291 pages of this work, which is still in current circulation.
The unfounded and inaccurate charges made against Mrs. White in this volume have provided the basis for a number of smaller works by others, written with the motive of "exposing" Seventh-day Adventists. Thus many a modern author, quite often sincerely misled, is indebted to Mr. Canright for distortions and untruths appearing in his articles, pamphlets, or books.
To disprove arguments and distorted exhibits employed by Mr. Canright and those who have followed his presentations, the carefully documented volume Ellen G. White and Her Critics, by F. D. Nichol, was issued by the publisher of this work and is currently available. Nichol has painstakingly
placed the Ellen G. White statement and historical events in their full and true setting.
These publications indicate that Seventh-day Adventists are concerned only that those who investigate the teachings of their church do so honestly and that they acquaint themselves with the facts. But as to whether the crusade against Seventh-day Adventists will continue, with the Canright books in part furnishing its basis, they have no illusions.
1. Note: The letters [Aug. 12, and Nov. 12, 1873] from Mrs. White
to the 33-year-old minister and his wife exhibited rare insight as indicated by the
"You are either on the pinnacle, or down in the
low slough of despond. An accidental circumstance will arouse you, and call out
every power of your soul. For a season, you will be exhilarated, and come up upon
the wave of excitement or popularity. You will excel yourself and astonish your
friends. But you are in danger of spending your force, and losing the exhilarating
power which stimulated you to action, and sink down into despondency and
discouragement. In these fitful efforts you lose more than you would gain by steady,
earnest effort. . . . Consider me not an enemy because I tell you the truth. I
long and pray that you may be found in your right mind sitting at the feet of Jesus and
learning of Him. . . . I pray the Lord to help you to get rid of some of your
lofty ideas of yourself and come down in meekness, feeling your nothingness without
Christ. Then will He be unto you a very present help in time of need."Ellen
G. White letter 1, 1873. [back to text]