Ellen G. White and Her Critics


A Friend of Canright Reminisces

[The following matter is a chapter entitled “D. M. Canright,” from the book I Remember, by D. W. Reavis. It has the limitation of being a reminiscence of the long ago. It has the advantage of being a report by one who was intimately acquainted with D. M. Canright. The chapter constitutes pages 117-120 of the Reavis book.] EGWC 540.1

Whatever Elder Canright said and wrote in those days [preceding his apostasy in 1887] meant as much to our people as the words of our most prominent leaders do today. But in view of what he has said and written since that time, and because of my intimate association with him, I feel it to be my duty to make a brief statement, with all the love in my heart it is possible for a human being to have for an admired, fallen friend. EGWC 540.2

I was acquainted with the Canright family during his first marriage, his first wife, who died in the faith, being a close friend of some of my intimate friends, and I felt highly honored by being selected by Elder Canright to do special Sabbath school work in Ohio. This appointment proved to be the beginning of a very close, mutual, friendly association. EGWC 540.3

Elder Canright talked freely with me about everything in which he was interested, about his personal difficulties, about his past trials and sorrows, and of his future hopes and plans. He seemed to find consolation in going over these things with me. He evidently felt that while I sympathetically listened, I would not repeat. Not until the present have I made any public statement of the facts I am now to state, and these are given not to condemn him, but, if possible, to save others even as strong as he from the pitfall into which he fell. EGWC 540.4

His estrangement began and developed through harboring that greatest seductive thing that finds its way into some human hearts, which I name an abnormal desire to be great, not great in the true meaning of the word, but great only in the estimation of people—to be popular. EGWC 540.5

The elder was remarkably bright, and grew rapidly from his humble beginning, through the blessing of God, and the power of the message he proclaimed with Heaven-bestowed ability. He was so greatly admired and openly praised by our workers and the laity, that he finally reached the conclusion he had inherent ability—that the message he was proclaiming was a hindrance to him rather than the exclusive source of his power. He gradually grew sensitive and resentful, and when reproof came through the testimonies, he rejected it, and finally gave up everything and began warring against the Spirit of prophecy and the message which had made him all he was. EGWC 540.6

During the summer and fall of 1880, immediately after graduation, I, with other students from Battle Creek College, attended Professor Hamill’s School of Oratory in Chicago. Elder Canright, inoculated, at heart, with a belief that through a thorough study in, and mastery of, expression he could accomplish his consuming desire to be a popular public speaker, joined us; and because of my former pleasant association with him, I became his critic as he lectured, upon invitation, through the influence of the School of Oratory, in many of the largest popular churches in Chicago during the summer vacation of the pastors of these churches. In these lectures he applied the oratorical principles taught in the school, and needed a critic versed in these principles, to follow him in his lectures and later point out his misapplications, and of course to compliment him on all that were rightly applied. He had more invitations than he could possibly accept; so he selected the largest and most popular churches. EGWC 541.1

One Sunday night, in the largest church of the West Side, he spoke on “The Saints’ Inheritance” to more than 3,000 people, and I took a seat in the gallery directly in front of him, to see every gesture and to hear every tone, form of voice, emphasis, stress, and pitch, and all the rest. But that was as far as I got in my part of the service, for he so quickly and eloquently launched into this, his favorite theme, that I, with the entire congregation, became entirely absorbed in the Biblical facts he was so convincingly presenting. I never thought of anything else until he had finished. EGWC 541.2

After the benediction I could not get to him for more than half an hour, because of the many people crowding around him, complimenting and thanking him for his masterly discourse. On all sides I could hear people saying it was the most wonderful sermon they had ever heard. I knew it was not the oratorical manner of the delivery, but the Bible truth clearly and feelingly presented, that had appealed to the people—it was the power in that timely message. It made a deep, lasting impression upon my mind. I saw that the power was all in the truth, and not in the speaker. EGWC 541.3

After a long time we were alone, and we went into a beautiful city park just across the street, which was almost deserted because of the late hour of the night, and sat down to talk the occasion over and for me to deliver my criticisms. But I had none for the elder. I frankly confessed that I became so completely carried away with that soul-inspiring Biblical subject I did not think once of the oratorical rules he was applying in its presentation. Then we sat in silence for some time. Suddenly the elder sprang to his feet and said, “D.W., I believe I could become a great man were it not for our unpopular message.” EGWC 541.4

I made no immediate reply, for I was shocked to hear a great preacher make such a statement; to think of the message, for which I had given up the world, in the estimation of its leading minister, being inferior to, and in the way of, the progress of men, was almost paralyzing. Then I got up and stepped in front of the elder and said with much feeling, “D.M., the message made you all you are, and the day you leave it, you will retrace your steps back to where it found you.” EGWC 542.1

But in his mind the die was evidently cast. The decision had doubtless been secretly made in his mind for some time, but had not before been expressed in words. From that night the elder was not quite the same toward our people and the work at large. He continued as a worker for several years afterward, but was retrograding in power all the time. The feeling that being an Adventist was his principal hindrance increasing as time passed, he finally reached the conclusion that he could achieve his goal of fame through denouncing the unpopular doctrines of the denomination, and he finally worked himself out of the denomination and into his self-imposed task of attempting to “expose” it. EGWC 542.2

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. EGWC 542.3

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 by 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 parts—uncontrollable joy and relentless grief. EGWC 542.4

Finally when he came to the Review and Herald office, 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, and he frankly admitted that what I had 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. EGWC 542.5

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 heart-breaking 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.” EGWC 542.6

This is a brief statement of the downfall of one of the leading men in our denominational work, brought about through the gradual development of a germ of self-exaltation. EGWC 543.1

[See also Appendixes O and P.] EGWC 543.2