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19. Hard and Trying Years
ON JULY 16, 1915, the woman who had counseled, prayed, and worked with D. M. Canright, the one who had predicted his downfall, and wept when it happened, died in California. Ellen G. White, messenger of the Lord, would no longer, in person, be with those for whom she had given a lifetime of devotion and hard work. Funeral services were held in both California and Michigan. On July 24, with his brother, Jasper, D. M. Canright attended the services at Battle Creek. Several eyewitnesses have described the touching experience of Mr. Canright's last parting from Ellen White. G. B. Thompson, who served as honor guard at the funeral, told me of Mr. Canright's uncontrollable grief, which marked him to people who did not know him as the chief mourner at the bier.
At the close of the funeral service, after the first visit to Mrs. White's casket as a part of the long line of mourners, Dudley Canright suggested a return to the front of the Tabernacle for one last farewell. Jasper wrote: "We joined the passing throng, and again stood by the bier. My brother rested his hand on the side of the casket, and with tears rolling down his cheeks, he said brokenly, 'There's a noble Christian woman gone.'" Others also remembered these words.
In spite of these words he soon reverted to type and ere-long was again engaged in his tirade against Seventh-day Adventists and Mrs. White. It had been many years since he had served his Baptist friends, under whose flag he had chosen to sail his craft.
Canright had been an efficient evangelist, and earnest student of the Word of God, a minister with experience as an executive. It is reported that he had been received with open arms by the Baptists at the age of forty-six, and heldas affirmed by repeated published attestations and affidavitsin high esteem by them. Why they advanced him to no post beyond that of local pastor, and then for only forty-five months, is a question that all might well ponder. Why, when in reasonably good health and still active till his seventh-fifth year, he was not employed in remunerative ministerial work beyond the age of fifty-seven is still another significant question.
Even though Mr. Canright's books were bought and circulated widely, and even though the pastors of a number of Protestant churches invited him to fill their pulpits in attempts to "expose" Seventh-day Adventists, his crusade against the Adventists did not bring him the popularity he so sedulously sought. Of this, his Adventist friend D. W. Reavis wrote in a personal letter:
"Elder Canright soon found that instead of the public following him in greater numbers as he withdrew from the Adventists and their teachings, it seemed to lose confidence in him, and to give more careful consideration to the things previously taught by him."D. W. Reavis letter to G. L. West, undated.
Somehow his preaching had grown stale. His evangelistic fire was gone. His financial support was irregular and uncertain.
The annual Baptist convention which met in Grand Rapids in October, 1896, conferred upon Mr. Canright the title Pastor Emeritus, in recognition of his two and one-half years as pastor of the Berean Baptist church of Grand Rapids, which he had helped to establish. The convention statement specified that the title carried with it no pastoral assignment and no salary. He was issued credentials and preached occasionally, but bore no other responsibilities.
Royalty income from his books fell far short of meeting the needs of his family. To gain a livelihood, Mr. Canright turned to door-to-door selling of religious books.
In 1897 he and his family lived in Toledo, Ohio and the following three years in Adrian and Kalamazoo, Michigan, and in South Bend, Indiana.
In 1900 Canright returned to Grand Rapids, not to pastor the church, but to engage in operating a garden and orchard. It appears that for a three-year period beginning with 1904, the Baptists allowed his credentials to lapse.
At this time Elder Butler, now president of the Southern Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, referred to the man:
"Poor Canright, where is he? If ever I pitied a man, I do him. He looks to me like a poor, seedy, used up old man, and he thought he was going to do grand missionary work."Letter to J. H. Kellogg, Aug. 12, 1904.
Alluding further to this experience, Butler warned Kellogg:
"No man in the Cause, believing . . . as you have believed, can take your stand right against what the Testimonies say and maintain your spirituality."Ibid.
As I have shown, Canright's heart seemed to be warmed as he met Adventist church members, and when he associated with his former brethren in the ministry. One such incident occurred shortly before Mrs. White's funeral. On that occasion, early in 1915, one of our denominational leaders, Elder L. H. Christian, called on Canright in his Grand Rapids home. Elder Christian was president of the Lake Union Conference at the time. Of this visit he wrote:
From time to time pastors and leaders of certain religious groups opposed to Adventists still occasionally invited Mr. Canright to fire his salvos at the church to which he had once belonged. His books presented what were supposed to be unanswerable arguments and revealing insights. Surely, it was thought, the author would be the man to silence the Sabbathkeepers.
I remember an animated conversation between Mr. Cornell and Mr. Canright over an invitation, with expenses to be paid, that came to him to speak at one such meeting to be held in Davenport, Iowa, some months in the future. He was to speak on "The Faults of Seventh-day Adventists." This brought animation and zeal to Mr. Canright to again be recognized as master in this field. I have knowledge of several occasions when he was invited to address those who were seeking means to hinder the work of Seventh-day Adventists. The circumstances were always similar to those of the Davenport meeting. This information came to me from Elder R. J. Sype, whose grandfather was well acquainted with D. M. Canright, and who, early in his ministry, had
corresponded with Canright, and from Elder H. O. Olson who passes on a report of the local elder of the Davenport church.
Elder Sype writes:
In reporting the incident to Elder H. O. Olson, the elder of the Davenport church told of how he invited Elder Canright to speak in the Seventh-day Adventist church on the next Sabbath. He did so. Years before, he had labored in Iowa and was acquainted with the older believers. The Olson report continues:
Elder W. E. Murray, long in executive work, remembers the Canright visit to the Davenport church when he was a young man, but thinks the visit took place a year or two earlier.
As long as D. M. Canright, with surrendered heart, fully accepted and preached God's Word, he was a man of power. But when he undertook to tear down what he, with God's help, had built up, his power was gone. The star of popularity he coveted was beyond his grasp.
It is small wonder that contradictory reports still persist, and there seems to be some confusion in the matter of what his true attitude toward the Adventists was. These are merely exhibits of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in Canright.