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I Was Canright's Secretary
by Carrie Johnson

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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 blacker clouds.

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

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with his eyes full of tears. The poor man seemed to exist simultaneously in two distinct parts—uncontrollable 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

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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 am—D. M. Canright. I love this church, I love this people—I got my first wife out of this church and a better woman never lived—I 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 done?"

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 my associates."

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, 1940.

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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?" mother asked.

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 wrote:

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

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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 church?"

His reply, spoken in tones of unutterable sadness was: "Sister, it is too late."

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 the street.

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

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back on 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 him—his own brother, Jasper B. Canright—written 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

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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 redeeming power.

Your brother,
(Signed) Jasper B. Canright

In my contacts with him as his secretary I learned that Mr. Canright intermittently turned to selling religious literature—often Seventh-day Adventist books—and not infrequently the children's books written and published by James Edson White, elder son of James and Ellen White—a 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 had

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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.

End Notes

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 text]

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