10. "Too Late!"
AS HE grew older, Canright, who never seemed to feel altogether at ease with his Baptist
connections, seemed to value highly any gesture of friendship shown to him by those with
whom he had been associated during his twenty-two years as a Seventh-day Adventist
minister. This I witnessed many times while I was his secretary.
It is interesting to note that while his former brethren could not sympathize
with his departure from the faith he had once held and taught, several among them who had
labored closely with him kept in touch. He was always pleased whenever he was
invited to meetings where he knew he would meet his former brethren, and occasionally he
attended Adventist church services. I shall cite several examples of this in due time.
D. W. Reavis, Mr. Canright's lifelong friend whom I have quoted earlier, tells of his
last interview with Mr. Canright. He writes:
All the years intervening between the time of our Chicago association in 1880, and 1903,
I occasionally corresponded with Elder Canright, always attempting to do all in my power
to save him from wrecking his life and injuring the cause he had done so much to build
up. At times I felt hopeful, but every time my encouragement was smothered in still
I finally prevailed upon him to attend a general meeting of our workers in Battle
Creek in 1903, with the view of meeting many of the old workers and having a
heart-to-heart talk together. He was delighted with the reception given him by all
the old workers, and greatly pleased with the cordiality of the new workers. All
through the meetings he would laugh
with his eyes full of tears. The poor man seemed
to exist simultaneously in two distinct partsuncontrollable joy and relentless grief.
Finally when he came to the Review and Herald office,Note 1 where I was then working, to tell
me good-by before returning to his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we went back in a dark
storeroom alone to have a talk, and we spent a long time there in this last personal,
heart-to-heart visit. I reminded him of what I had told him years before in Chicago
[see p. 58], and he frankly admitted that what I predicted had come to pass, and that he
wished the past could be blotted out and that he was back in our work just as he was at
the beginning, before any ruinous thoughts of himself had entered his heart.
I tried to get him to say to the workers there assembled just what he had said to
me, assuring him that they would be glad to forgive all and to take him back in full
confidence. I never heard any one weep and moan in such deep contrition as that once
leading light in our message did. It was heartbreaking even to hear him. He
said he wished he could come back to the fold as I suggested, but after long,
heartbreaking moans and weeping, he said: "I would be glad to come back, but I
can't! It's too late! I am forever gone! Gone!" As he wept on
my shoulder, he thanked me for all I had tried to do to save him from that sad hour.
He said, D. W., whatever you do, don't ever fight the message."I
Remember, pp. 119, 120.
This was not the only time in his later years that Mr. Canright expressed regret
to his Adventist friends for having withdrawn from the church. Nor was it the last
time he counseled: "Don't ever fight the message."
Seventh-day Adventists around Otsego remembered Elder Canright well. There
he had lived as an Adventist minister in the middle 1880's. It was from the Otsego
church he had been disfellowshiped, and from time to time in his later life, though he
made his home in Grand Rapids, he would be in Otsego.
Miss Florence E. Ransaw, who for a number of years resided at Otsego, Michigan,
recounts an experience that occurred about the year 1912:
While we were yet living in Otsego, Mother and I went to church on Sabbath.
The church was full of people that Sabbath, as we had a visiting minister, an elderly
man. I don't remember his name now. He preached a powerful sermon; it sank
deep in every heart.
All during the sermon I could hear some one stepping around in the entry-way as
the door from the entry-way into the church was open some
six or eight inches. I
supposed it was some mother trying to keep her child quiet during the meeting as they
often did. But instead it was D. M. Canright that was out there all during the
sermon, and he surely heard a wonderful[ly] good sermon.
As soon as the minister finished and sat down, and the Elder of the Church
announced the closing hymn, in walked Elder Canright briskly up the center isle to the
front of the Church and facing the audience said,
"I don't think I need any introduction. I think you all know who I
amD. M. Canright. I love this church, I love this peopleI got my first wife out
of this church and a better woman never livedI love this church, I love this people and
by rights this is where I belong."
All the while he was speaking he was weeping, using his handkerchief freely. . .
. Then the minister spoke up and said, "Well, brother, if that is the way you feel
you had better come back to us."
Elder Canright turned to the minister and said, "I can't. I've gone too
far." Then he sank down on the front seat weeping and was still sitting there
when we left the church."Letter from Florence E. Ransaw to J. H. Rhoads, written
from Charlotte, Michigan, Aug. 26, 1958.
D. M. Canright seemed to have no hesitation about visiting freely with the
Adventist Church leaders. Elder F. M. Wilcox, for thirty-three years editor in chief
of the Review and Herald, relates one such incident:
I recall an interesting conversation which I had with D. M. Canright some time
before his death. I was attending a general meeting held in Battle Creek,
Michigan. Elder Canright was at the sanitarium taking treatment. He attended
some of our meetings.
One day I sat down beside him, and after a pleasant greeting we had the following
conversation: I said, "Elder Canright, you may not recall that you organized
the little church to which I first belonged in northern New York. I have followed
your work through the years, and have regretted to see that you have separated from your
former brethren. I am now engaged in the ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist
Church, and I would like to ask what your counsel is to me. Shall I do as you have
He dropped his head and meditated for a full minute. Then he inquired,
"Do you believe the things you preach?"
I said, "I do with all my heart."
He then asked, "Are you in difficulty with any of your brethren?"
I said, "Not in any way. I have always worked very harmoniously with
Then he said, "My counsel to you is to remain right where you
are." It seemed to me that this was significant advice from one who had spent
years in fighting the cause which he once espoused. . . . He did not feel free to advise
another to follow in his steps.F. M. Wilcox, in Review and Herald, Aug 22,
Here is yet another incident that reveals how Mr. Canright felt at times.
The late Elder K. F. Ambs, of Washington, D.C., recalled the following incident that
occurred when he was a boy growing up in Otsego:
One afternoon, while father and I were away at work, mother answered the door and
admitted an elderly man who was selling a small book. When she looked at the title
it read, Gospel Primer, by J. E. White.
Surprised, she said, "This is a Seventh-day Adventist book, isn't it?
To which the old gentleman replied, "Yes, ma'am, it is." "And are
you a Seventh-day Adventist?" she asked. To this he replied, "Well,
I was a Seventh-day Adventist."
Upon asking him his name he replied that his name was Canright.
"Are you D. M. Canright?" she asked.
"Yes, sister, I'm D. M. Canright."
"Are you that man who had so much light and who turned his back on it?"
His response was significant. Said he, "Yes, sister, I am that man,
and how often have I sought to find my way back but have been unable to do so."
As he was leaving he shook mother's hand saying, as tears filled his eyes,
"Sister, you have the truth, hold fast to it, never let it go. It is the very
truth."Letter from K. F. Ambs to D. A. Delafield, Dec. 4, 1964.
But this is not all. Elder J. C. Harris, for many years a minister in the
Michigan Conference, soon after the turn of the century met Mr. Canright at Battle Creek
and had some conversation with him. Elder Harris could never for get that meeting,
and the incident provided a useful illustration, which he often used in his evangelistic
work. The account comes to us from his son, William J. Harris, long in ministerial
service and later connected with the General Conference in Washington, D.C. He
I recall how my father on several occasions, when in his public evangelistic
efforts he was encouraging new converts to make definite decisions, related an experience
he had with D. M. Canright.
Some general meeting, a conference session, or some such type of general
gathering, was being held in the old tabernacle at Battle Creek. My father happened
to meet Mr. Canright, who had come to meet some of the brethren. They knew each
other fairly well and called each other by their given names. After a word or two upon
meeting, my father said, "D. M., isn't it about time for you to reconsider and get
back into the faith before it is too late?" "No, Jap" (my father's
name was Jasper, but many called him "Jap"), said Mr. Canright, "No, I can
never do that. The Holy
Spirit has left me for good. I can never do
that. My heart no longer feels the impression of the Spirit."
I have heard my father repeatedly tell this experience as he sought to warn
people of the danger of rejecting the appeals of the Holy Spirit to their
hearts.Statement of William J. Harris to Arthur L. White, Dec. 30, 1964.
Elder Clinton Lee, who was living in Battle Creek about 1913, also reports that
on one occasion Mr. Canright called at the home of Sister Howe, who lived a couple of
blocks from the Battle Creek Tabernacle. Apparently Mr. Canright did not know she
was an Adventist.
"How do you do, Elder Canright," she said in response to his knock at
the door. She invited him in. "Do you know me?" he asked.
"Indeed, I do," she replied.
After they had talked for a time she asked, "Why don't you come back to the
His reply, spoken in tones of unutterable sadness was: "Sister, it is too
With every gesture denoting despair he arose and walked out the door, the words
"Too late; too late," like an echo, following him as he made his slow way down
Elder Lee remembers seeing Canright only once, when he walked quietly into a
workers' meeting at Grand Rapids. Whenever possible, this seemed to be Canright's
custom during the years 1910-1916. He especially enjoyed attending meetings of
Seventh-day Adventist ministers. When Canright was pointed out to Brother Lee, the
young minister observed that he had only one eye, the result of surgery. Everyone
noticed how pleased he was to meet with some of his former brethren.
Canright's visit to Battle Creek about the time this incident took place is
attested to in a letter he wrote to Elder J. H. Morrison, dated June 25, 1913.
Speaking of his former brethren he says: "I have just spent two weeks in Battle
Creek, attending all their meetings and having long visits with ministers, brethren and
sisters. All greeted me in the kindest way and I enjoyed it greatly."
These expressions of regret and despair made by D. M. Canright over a period of
years, sometimes in private and occasionally in public gatherings, quite naturally became
known. And revealed that in his sincere, quiet moments Mr.
Canright freely admitted that when he turned his
Seventh-day Adventists he turned away from light. Mr. Canright the Baptist was not
as happy apart from the Adventists as he sometimes wished people to think. I was to
personally witness this fact many times during my brief period as his secretary.
But there was another side to Mr. Canright's personality. As rumors spread
that he regretted having left the Adventists, he wrote and published denials. He
often repeated these to relatives and to his Baptist friends. One such was published
in the Review and Herald. Another he notarized and put in the public
press, hoping to smother these reports once and for all. And yet I know from
personal experience that there was truth to these reports. Why, then, did he
go out of his way to deny them? I think I know why.
Canright was a proud man, and it would not have been advantageous to him for the
general public to become aware of his admissions in moments of "weakness."
Perhaps these contradictory statements reflect the dual personality that Mr.
Canright had early revealed in his work as a minister in the Adventist Church. Be
this as it may, his consistent counsel to his Adventist friends and former brethren was:
"Stay where you are." In witness to this is the signed statement of a
Seventh-day Adventist very close to himhis own brother, Jasper B. Canrightwritten in
the year 1931 to Elder S. E. Wight, long a Seventh-day Adventist church administrator.
Battle Creek, Michigan
Feb. 24, 1931
Elder S. E. Wight
120 Madison Avenue, S. E.,
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Dear Elder Wight:
My brother, the late Elder D. M. Canright, often told me to remain true to the
message. He said too: "If you give up the message, it will ruin your
life."Note 2 Many years
ago in a public meeting at West Le Roy, where
he had been called to oppose the work of a
Seventh Day Adventist minister, he made the following statements: "I think I
know why you have called me out here. You expect me to prove from the Bible that
Sunday is the Sabbath, and Saturday isn't the Sabbath. Now I can't prove from the
Bible that Sunday is the Sabbath, for it isn't there, and I think I can convince you that
Saturday is not the Sabbath [sic]."
Then again as he stood at Sr. White's casket with one hand in my arm and the
other hand on her coffin with tears streaming down his cheeks, he said: "There's a
noble Christian woman gone.Note 3
Sincerely yours in the blessed hope,
(Signed) J. B. Canright
In a letter written a few months later to Elder W. H. Branson, Jasper Canright
affirmed his personal faith in the message his brother, D. M. Canright, had taught him. He said:
Battle Creek, Michigan
May 11, 1931
Dear Bro. Branson:
I learned this truth from my brother, D. M. Canright, when I was twelve years of
age and it is clearer and brighter now than ever before and I am eight-three years old.
I believe the Lord is soon coming and I am looking forward to seeing Him and
having a home on the new earth.
I am thankful for the Sabbath, which is a weekly memorial of His creative and
(Signed) Jasper B. Canright
In my contacts with him as his secretary I learned that Mr. Canright intermittently
turned to selling religious literatureoften Seventh-day Adventist booksand not
infrequently the children's books written and published by James Edson White, elder son of
James and Ellen Whitea rather strange anomaly. During these years he lost his left
eye, his children grew up and embarked on life for themselves, his finances waned,
royalties from his literary productions slumped, and he supplemented this and the income
from his poor little farm with the sale of children's books.
It was in this period that I became acquainted with Mr. Canright and for seven months
served as his secretary. Mr. Canright was then seventy-two years of age. His wife
just died, and with the aid and encouragement of his friends in Battle Creek he was
again turning to the production of literary works as a means of bolstering his income.
But before relating my experience as Mr. Canright's secretary, I would like to tell how
I became a Seventh-day Adventist.
1. The main building burned on December 30, 1902, but the book
depository across the street known as the West Building was untouched. It must have
been here that the experience described in the following paragraphs took place. [back to text]
2. Jasper Canright died at Battle Creek, Michigan, September 4,
1931. In his obituary in the Review and Herald, October 15, 1931, it is reported:
"His brother, D. M. Canright, once said to him, 'Don't give up the message; for if
you do, it will ruin your life.' He heeded well this admonition." [back to text]
3. Others who overheard Canright at the Ellen G. White funeral,
July 23, 1915, have attested to statement. See pages 156, 159. [back to