D. M. Canright
THE MAN WHO BOARDED THE PHANTOM SHIP
DATE OF PUBLICATION: JUNE 2004
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE MAN WHO DEDICATED HIS LIFE TO ATTACKING HISTORIC ADVENTISM AND THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY?
There are still many people who rely on the writings of this individual to disparage both Ellen White and the Truths of Adventism. You deserve to know how he came to write what he wrote and what happened in his own life.
A phantom is something like a mirage. It may seem mysteriously inviting, but what it offers isn't really there.
According to our Divine Captain, it was a deceptive craft, with worm-eaten timbers which would eventually flounder on the rocks (5 Testimonies, 571-573, written to Canright).
Canright boarded that ship anyway; and it led him into something terrible. But just now, let us go back to the early 1800s, to the beginning of the story.
In late 1831 Hiram and Loretta Canright moved to an eighty-acre farm near Kinderhook in southern Michigan. Soon after, their first son, Dudley Marvin, was born. The date was September 22, 1840. Nineteen years later, in 1859, Dudley went to live with an uncle near Albion, New York so that he could attend school. And that spring he began working for a Seventh-day Adventist farmer and minister, Roswell F. Cottrell. While working in the cornfield together, young Dudley learned about the Sabbath truth and the Third Angels Message.
That summer, following a tent effort held by James White not far from Albion, he accepted the Advent Message and was baptized soon after by Elder Cottrell. Canrights first convert was his mother, for thrilled with the message, he hurried home to share it with his family. She remained true to the Advent Message to her death. Remaining on the farm for a time he helped with the work, and then when about 21, he traveled the nearly forty miles north to Battle Creek to talk with Elder James White about entering the ministry. Elder White gave him a Bible and a set of prophecy charts and he went out and began preaching. Later, Elder White raised money for a library for the young evangelist.
Present truth looks clearer and more beautiful to us the more we study it. . Praise the Lord for a religion that agrees with the Bible, common sense, and the wants of man," he wrote to the "Review and Herald, as he held evangelistic series up and down the state of Michigan [Review, Nov. 8, 1864]. On May 29, 1865, D. M. Canright was ordained by James White and J N. Loughborough, in a service held at Battle Creek. He was 24 years of age.
In the middle of 1866, Canright began evangelistic work in New England, but found the territory so conservative that frequently he had but little fruit. It was during this period that certain weaknesses in Canrights character began to reveal themselves. Following an apparent failure in the work, or a supposed slight by another, a deep discouragement would come over him that could go on for weeks and even months. Doubts about the existence of God would sweep over his mind. At times he came close to outright atheism.
But then success in his work and the encouragement of his brethren would waft aside the gloom and cheerfulness would once again return. In his private diary for 1867 he wrote of his struggles with pride, self-exaltation and a spirit of harshness toward others. He declared that he was spiritually sick and feared that God had forever forsaken him. The thought tortured him that perhaps he was eternally lost.
A good portion of 1866 and 1867 were passed amid such gloomy and morose feelings, although oddly enough it was in 1867 that his life was brightened with the happiness of marriage. On April 11, he married 19-year old Lucretia Cranson. (Earlier, when her parents died prematurely, she was raised by the George Amadon family in Battle Creek. Often the three orphan girls were befriended by Ellen White.)
Back in New England again, Canright pushed hard at evangelism. But there were difficulties. Something of a driver, he did not understand why his frail wife could not keep up with all that he demanded of her as a busy evangelists wife. But Lucretia devotedly did her best to please. "For myself, I never felt so much confidence in the third angels message as now; I never prized the gifts as now, never loved Gods tried servants as now.Review, Nov. 12, 1867.
1868 marked the emergence of what would prove to be one of Canrights cleverest abilitiesa talent for debate. He handled them so well that soon fellow evangelists called for him to hold debates in their areas, as the need arose. It is thought that early in his career he worked with, and learned to debate from, the brilliant Adventist minister, Moses Hull, who, as you may know, was so certain of his abilities that he took on spiritualists in public debates and as an outcome was later to be drawn into the depths of spiritualism by them. [Read 1T 426-39, 442-3; 2T 625; and 3T 212 for more on Elder Hulls fall.]
After the death of their second child, they moved west and Canright began work under Elder George I. Butler, president of the Iowa Conference. The two men would work together for a number of years, both in Iowa and elsewhere. By now, Canright was serving on important conference committees. And soon he was recognized as the champion debater of the conference.
But in the midst of so much success, once again the strange flaw came to the surface. It was December of 1869. Canright, now 29, was holding evangelistic meetings in Monroe, Iowa and forty had taken their stand. On Tuesday evening, the 28th, flushed with success from a debate won that night, he returned to his hotel room. Elder Butler had attended the debate and following it, walked with Canright to the hotel for he planned to lodge there that night also.
But before retiring, he was astounded to hear Canright But before retiring, he was astounded to hear Canright confessing to him that he was on the verge of atheism. Powerful waves of temptation to give up all religion pressed over him. Impulses to renounce his belief in Scripture and go into outright infidelity were almost more than he could handle, he told Butler that evening. All night long, without sleep, the two men talked and prayed. Butler reported that in the morning Canright appeared more calm and possessed.
A few weeks later, at the General Conference session in Battle Creek, he made some confessions and seemed to feel better. Immediately, he pushed himself even harder in new evangelistic meetings in Iowa. As he went, he took Lucretia with him, although by that time they had a house in Monroe. Life was hard for his little wife. After her death, he was to call her a "saint" for what she had gone through. Four years later they were to sell it, their first home. It had been hardly lived in.
"Looking over the past year, shame, sorrow, and regret fill my heart that I did not stand the test better. Thank God, probation still continues. My health is good and strong. "--Review, Jan. 9, 1872. "--Review, Jan. 9, 1872.
In June he was called to Minnesota where he found less success in the meetings. Lacking quick success, he was again plunged into gloom. In August, he debated one Friday night with a spiritualist. Billed as a "trance speaker, a celebrated lecturer among the spiritualists," the worshiper of Satan arrived in town. A debate between the two was shortly to follow. Into the evangelistic tent strode the spiritualist, and when it came his turn to speak, all could see that he spoke in a trance. When the audience hissed at some of his Satanic remarks, he became angry and called them geese. At this they laughed, and the tide was turned in favor of Canright. He was later to report it in the Review as a great victory [Review, Sept. 17, 1872]. At the end of that year he wrote, "God has been better to us than all our fears. I am resolved not to be so cast down again under any circumstances. Review, Jan. 14,1873.
In the summer of 1873, he and his wife went for a vacation trip with Elder and Mrs. White to the Rockies. James was recovering from a stroke and needed a change. And Ellen, knowing that the Canrights needed a rest also, invited them along. Arriving at their destination, they stayed in a mountain cabin near Black Hawk, Colorado. For several weeks all had a happy time, amid walks and strawberry picking. And Sister White was awaiting an opportunity to speak with the young couple. She had been given counsel for them.
But before the opportunity came, bad weather kept them in for a spell and Elder White became so ill that he could not sleep. Irritated at the cramped quarters, Canright burst into anger against the man who had so many times befriended him. He was later to write of the incident, "I told the elder my mind freely. That brought us into an open rupture. Mrs. White heard it all, but said nothing." Shortly thereafter, Ellen spoke with them both and told what had been revealed in vision. But they resisted all of the counsel given.
A letter dated August 12, was later sent to them. [It is in 3T 304-329.] Again, Sister White tried to help them but as she wrote in her diary, they "seem unfeeling, as unimpressible as stones. [MS 10, 1873.] On August 26, the Canrights left, and once again despondent, he moved his family to California and "came very near giving up everything." For a time he worked at farming. Then in a letter in Lucretias handwriting, Dudley wrote and asked for forgiveness.
"Your words and spirit are very tender, humble, and forgiving . . I have never seen any sins or faults in the character and life of Sister White . . I am satisfied that the time had come in my life when it was important that I should make a radical change in several important points. This I am now fully determined to do at all events." [Letter, Nov. 8, 1873.]
Meeting again in late 1873, the two men wept together in a manzanita thicket near Santa Rosa, California. From the fall of 1873 until the moment of her death, Lucretia never again had a question about Ellen White and the Testimonies. For the remainder of her life she ever sought to be a helper to her husband and a faithful child of God.
In the spring of 1877 Canright wrote a series of articles for the "Review" under the title, "A Plain Talk to Murmurers," presenting "Some Facts for Those Who Are not in Harmony With the Body."
In these articles he traced the rise of the church and then, in some detail, he told the story of various ones who had apostatized and later fought the church. In other articles in this series he spoke about Ellen White, whom he had personally known for many years, and about the immense value of the Testimonies in the history of the church and in his own life.
Elsewhere in this present biography of Canright, we shall include some passages from this significant series of articles, since they provide us with a clear understanding of his real feelings.Part 2