Dudley Canright and the SDA trinity

Originally published on Facebook on Sunday, October8, 2017

A request was made that I share the history regarding the role that Dudley Marvin Canright and his criticisms played in the introduction of the doctrine of the trinity within Seventh-day Adventism. The picture above is the inner page of one of his two books and it had an huge impact on the matter. What follows below is a part of the rough draft of my paper about this subject. And I am indebted to numerous individuals who have brought my attention to various data points along the way (special shout out to brother Brendan Paul Valiant!). In this research I look at the matter from an angle that is frequently neglected and/or distorted by SDA pro-trinitarian scholarship. Contextually I am responding to a theory that the 1888 meetings were the impetus that first introduced the trinity into Adventism in a positive sense. Contrary to that theory, I am suggesting that it was actually a reaction to D.M. Canright. I will pick up with that part now. Happy reading friends!

“Dudley Marvin Canright was a prominent leader in Seventh-day Adventism and had an on again, off again relationship with the church. He left the fold for the final time in 1887 and in 1889 he published his book Seventh-day Adventism Renounced. Its import is best explained by the historian Gary Land.

“His book Seventh- day Adventism Renounced became the chief weapon used by Evangelicals against Seventh-day Adventists…” (Adventism in America: a history – Page 105, Gary Land -1986)

Not only was this book popular in America but it was also used against SDAs in Australia. Its influence is captured by a statement in the June 17, 1899 edition of Bible Echo and Signs of the Times (an Australian SDA periodical) which had this to say on the matter:

“Nearly every religious paper in Christendom has heralded his apostasy, and become, to some extent, the medium through which he has vented his feelings toward a cause that has made him all that he is, and that he has not ceased to oppose with all his might since he forsook it….Elder Canright has written a book, as nearly everybody knows, which is directed against our work and people. We venture to say that no book published in the last decade, unless it be ‘Robert Elsmere,’ has received such extensive free advertisement as this production.” (Bible Echo and Signs of the Times June 17, 1899 pg 192)

So for a decade, 1889 to 1899, Canright’s departure from Adventism was the subject matter of “nearly every religious paper in Christendom” and his anti-SDA work received “extensive free advertisement” in these periodicals. This book became “the chief weapon” used against the Adventist church. And it was influential for many years after 1899 too. Now when we turn to Canright’s book we see that one of the bombshell charges that he leveled against his former brethren was that “they reject the doctrine of the Trinity” (Seventh-day Adventism Renounced pg 25). Canright removed this accusation in the later editions of the book (see below: pg 25 of the 6th edition with the quote and the 14th edition without).

Seventh-day Adventism Renounced 1889, 6th Edition, pg 25;  Source: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/ptid=uiug.30112069956131&view=1up&seq=31

Seventh-day Adventism Renounced 1889, 6th Edition, pg 25;
Source: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/ptid=uiug.30112069956131&view=1up&seq=31

Seventh-day Adventism Renounced 1889, 14th Edition, pg 25 “they reject the doctrine of the Trinity” is removed. Source: https://archive.org/details/seventhdayadvent00canruoft/page/n33

Seventh-day Adventism Renounced 1889, 14th Edition, pg 25 “they reject the doctrine of the Trinity” is removed. Source: https://archive.org/details/seventhdayadvent00canruoft/page/n33

This historical context helps us to understand the following complaint from Mrs. White in speaking of her time in Australia. She explained that false reports were circulated about the SDA people by the denominational ministers, particularly in regard to their belief in the divinity of Christ and His pre-existence.

“In this country, the denominational ministers tell the most unblushing falsehoods to their congregations in reference to our work and our people. Whatever false report has been started, is circulated by those who oppose the truth, and is repeated from church to church and from community to community. The circulators of these falsehoods take no pains to find out whether or not they are true, for many of those who repeat the reports, though not the framers of them, still love the false reports, and take delight in giving them a wide circulation. They do not, like honest, just men, come to those who are accused, and seek to find out what is the truth concerning what they have heard in regard to their faith; but without inquiry they spread false statements in order to prejudice the people against those who hold the truth. For instance, an effort was made to obtain the use of the hall at a village four miles from Hastings, where some of our workers proposed to present the gospel to the people; but they did not succeed in obtaining the hall, because a school-teacher there opposed the truth, and declared to the people that Seventh-day Adventists did not believe in the divinity of Christ. This man may not have known what our faith is on this point, but he was not left in ignorance. He was informed that there is not a people on earth who hold more firmly to the truth of Christ’s pre-existence than do Seventh-day Adventists. But the answer was given that they did not want that the doctrines of Seventh-day Adventists should be promulgated in that community. So the door was closed. {RH December 5, 1893, par. 5}

Now Mrs. White does not specify the source of the false reports here but we do know from the Bible Echo and Signs of the Times periodical that Canright’s work was very popular in Australia during this time. Interestingly enough Canright’s charge that SDAs reject the Trinity was expunged from later editions of his book, presumably due to the SDA reaction, yet it made great inroads against the progress of the 3 angel’s message and remained problematic for decades.

This is the historical setting when brother M.C. Wilcox’s published the Spear’s article “The Subordination of Christ.” This first occurred in December of 1891. You see from 1889 onward there was a popular work being circulated that charged Seventh-day Adventists as being rejecters of the trinity! Consequently SDAs were held to be rejecters of the divinity and pre-existence of Christ and one who had been a leader among them was spreading that claim far and wide. Here, I believe, we find a much more plausible explanation for the introduction of the word “trinity” into Adventism. It was reactionary theology! Due to the impact of this critical work M.C. Wilcox used Spear’s article in order to start building munitions to fight back against Canright and alter the public perception of Seventh-day Adventists.

And a public campaign was used for this cause too – the Bible Student’s Library. And in this series the title of Spear’s article was changed to read “The Bible Doctrine of the Trinity.” According to the SDA Encyclopedia the “series of pamphlets” of the Bible Students’ Library were “designed for the public, containing brief and pointed essays on Bible doctrines, the fulfillment of prophecy, and other aspects of SDA teachings.” (Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, entry on the “Bible Students’ Library). And it is interesting to note that other articles in this series had headings which appear to be labeled especially for public consumption (i.e. #111 is entitled “Tormented Forever and Ever” and # 121 is entitled “The Temporal Millennium”). In light of the popular beliefs amongst evangelicals back then, eternal hell fire and post-millennialism, these headings appear designed to catch their attention and assuage their fears regarding Adventists.

The historical context suggest to us that Wilcox used Spear’s article not because he started to believe in the trinity as a result of the 1888 meetings but rather so that “the public” would see evidence that Seventh-day Adventists were not heretical contrary to Canright’s popularized claim otherwise. The timing of this occurrence seems more than coincidental and the promotion of this newly titled article came forth immediately.

“No. 90 is entitled “The Bible Doctrine of the Trinity,” by the late Samuel T. Spear, D.D. and is reprinted from the New York Independent. While there may be minor thoughts in this worthy number which we might wish to express differently, on the whole we believe that it sets forth the Bible doctrine of the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit with a devout adherence to the words of Scripture, in the best brief way we ever saw it presented” (Signs of the Times Vol 18, No. 22, 1892)

“The Bible Doctrine of the Trinity. This tract of 16 pages is a reprint of an article in the New York Independent, by the late Samuel Spear, D.D. It presents the Bible view of the doctrine of the Trinity in the terms used in the Bible, and therefore avoids all philosophical discussion and foolish speculation. It is a tract worthy of reading” (Signs of the Times Vol 20. No. 29, 1894)

Notice the continued reference to the “trinity” as a Bible doctrine. This was a word that up until this point had never been used in Adventism in a positive sense. Also please note that Wilcox did not agree in totality with Spear’s document. He said that there “may be minor thoughts” that “we might wish to express differently” but never explained what these were. However, reading his later publications helps us to see at least what some of these differences are. Now M.C. Wilcox was the editor of Signs of the Times so he was responsible for the endorsements here. And his usage of the word “trinity” here does not mean what some today attempt to make it out to be. Merlin Burt, perceptively notes the following:

“The title, Bible Doctrine of the Trinity, implied that the work would be sympathetic to the doctrine of the trinity. Upon reading the tract, one finds almost nothing which nineteenth-century Adventists would have found objectionable.” (Merlin Burt, ‘Demise of Semi-Arianism and Anti-Trinitarianism in Adventist Theology, 1888-1957’, pages 5-6, December 1996)

Now a great irony here is that M.C. Wilcox himself was not actually a trinitarian, at least not in the sense of the word as used by Adventists today. Several years after this publication, in reply to the question “May we not understand that the Holy Ghost is a person, as well as the Father, and the Son, or is its Jesus’ Spirit, as most claim it is?” he replied:

“The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit, the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, the Spirit of Christ, are all one and the same Spirit: for there is ‘one Spirit, even as ye are called ‘in one hope.’ Eph. 4:4. This Spirit is the outflowing life of God in Christ, and has the power of bringing to the child of God the personality and presence of Christ. In this way it may be said to be a person, while as God’s life it is said to be shed forth, poured
out, etc. We cannot comprehend the infinite” (Signs of the Times August 11, 1898 Vol. 24, No. 31)

Again, in 1911, Wilcox asserted his view that the Spirit was not revealed as a separate person.

“The Holy Spirit is the mighty energy of the Godhead, the life and power of God flowing out from Him to all parts of the universe, and thus making a living connection between His throne and all creation… Thus the Spirit is personified in Christ and God, but never revealed as a separate person. Never are we told to pray to the Spirit; but to God for the Spirit.” (Questions and Answers gathered from ‘The Question Corner Department’ of the Signs of the Times. Pacific Press p18-182. 1911. M C Wilcox.)

Finally, even as late as the year 1914, Wilcox did not regard the Spirit as an individual person as we look upon them.

“Wherever God’s children are, there is the Spirit – not an individual person, as we look upon persons, but having the power to make present the Father and the Son” (M. C. Wilcox, “The Personality of the Spirit” Signs of the Times , 24 November 1914.)

It is also seems that M.C. Wilcox maintained flexibility on the eternality of the Son of God. He acknowledged that there were some who believed that He was not fully eternal and offered no condemnation of that position:

“2. Yes, some do conclude, from Revelation 3:14, that there was a time when the Son did not exist, save in the all-comprehending purpose and potency of God” (Questions Gathered pg 25 1938 edition)

So then if Wilcox did not believe in the Personhood of the Spirit in the same sense as the Father and Son and if he remained flexible regarding the eternality of the Son then why in the world would he use the word trinity to describe SDA belief? Why would he publish Samuel Spear’s article? Again I believe the correct answer is that he was reacting to Canright. Brother Wilcox now had a resource to which he could point when readers asked questions of Adventists on the matter as the following quote from an 1893 Signs of the Times indicates:


“What is your idea about the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost being three in one? SUBSCRIBER.

“It matters very little what our idea is in the matter. What does the Bible teach? should be the question with us all. Christ says” I and my Father are one,” and prays that his disciples may be one as he and his Father are one. John 10: 30; 17:11,21. The unity is one we may apprehend, though not comprehend. “The Bible Doctrine of the Trinity,” No. 90 of the Bible Students’ Library, price two cents (Pacific Press, Oakland, Cal.), will give you some good thoughts and suggestions on the matter. (ST Jan 23, 1893)

A careful reader will note that Wilcox completely dodged the question about the Father, Son and Holy Ghost being three in one and responded instead with Scripture that taught that Christ and the Father (that is 2 Persons) are one. What is happening here is best explained as reactionary theology. There was now an article in print, by Seventh-day Adventists, that used the word “trinity” in a positive sense. It could be used as a response to all inquiries and deflect criticism but it did not commit to the issue.

This response, as we will see shortly, did not settle the issue. The salient point for this paper is that what is quite possibly the first pro-trinitarian reference in Adventism by M.C. Wilcox was not due to his adopting the doctrine of the trinity as a consequence of the 1888 meetings. Since he remained flexible regarding the Son’s eternality and never adopted the view of a separate Spirit Person, even 26 years later, it must be for some other reason. The historical evidence suggests that it was reactionary to trinitarian criticism of the SDA church. It was a rephrasing of the doctrine with evangelical wording in order to make it more palatable. This is what introduced the doctrine of the trinity into Seventh-day Adventism.

The major problem in the pro-trinitarian recounting of the development of this doctrine in Seventh-day Adventism is that the impact of D.M. Canright and his criticisms is overlooked yet they were clearly a major impetus. These criticisms were most damaging and were believed by influential Christians of other denominations. For example James Gray, the president of Moody Bible Institute, had this to say about the matter:

“The Seventh-day Adventists…reject the doctrine of the Trinity, which involves the Deity of Christ, though this is not stated… We would recommend you to read Seventh-day Adventism Renounced by Elder Canright….” (Bible Problems Explained, James Martin Gray, 1913)

As you can see Seventh-day Adventists were not trusted and Canright was viewed as the reliable source for information on the true SDA doctrine. This was in the year 1913 so despite M.C. Wilcox’s 1891 publication of a pro-trinitarian reference the church was still maligned and Canright continued on the attack. This was a period of damage control. The following article demonstrates this and the critic being referenced here is none other than Canright.

“Garbled Statements of Facts

“A CORRESPONDENT sends us a copy of the Louisville Christian Observer of February 12, containing an article on the Seventh-day Adventists. It aims to set forth the views of Seventh-day Adventists, not from their own published statements so much, but statements from a disappointed, ambitious man who felt that his ability was not sufficiently recognized, and who apostatized.


“… The simple fact is that in all this time this man never really knew the truth as taught by Seventh-day Adventists and as it is in Jesus. He learned facts and theories, but not truth. He learned doctrines, separate and distinct articles of faith, but never the doctrine, the teaching of the Bible, the center of which is Christ Jesus. He perhaps tells us truly what he believed once, but he does not rightly represent the denomination. FOR INSTANCE, HE DECLARES THAT AMONG THE CHIEF DOCTRINAL POINTS OF SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS ARE “REJECTION OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY; materiality of all things ; that the Bible must be interpreted to harmonize with the writings of Mrs. White ; that when Christ comes only 144,000 out of all then living will be saved, and all those will be Seventh-day Adventists.” Now in the sense in which these are set forth they are not true. This man may not know it, but our correspondent evidently thinks so, who says that he is a member of the Presbyterian Church, and a reader of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, and remarks that “I do not think this article quite fair.” And it is not fair, nor is it true.

“The best way to understand just what Seventh-day Adventists believe is to read just what they have to say. All of the great fundamental Scriptural views of the denomination are given each year in the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, and these are taught as the editors understand the Bible to teach them. (M.C. Wilcox Signs of the Times, April 8, 1913)< /p>

Now M.C. Wilcox got himself into a bit of trouble here. How so? The problem was that the great fundamental Scriptural views of the denomination that were being published at this time were non-trinitiarian! So even though he and others had used the word “trinity” in the periodicals the fundamental principles were problematic. They were non-trinitarian and Canright, who was no novice to Adventism, knew this and took full advantage of it. In fact let’s quote from an article from Canright in “The Christian Workers Magazine” from 1915. Here he is repudiating a claim by a SDA minister by the name of Wheeler that Seventh-day Adventists believed in the trinity as held by evangelical churches.

“WHAT SHALL WE SAY TO ELDER WHEELER’S ASSERTION THAT ADVENTIST BELIEVE IN THE TRINITY AS HELD BY THE EVANGELICAL CHURCHES? Again YOU ASKED ELDER WHEELER “IF THEY HAD PUT OUT ANY OFFICIAL STATEMENT OF THEIR FAITH.” He says, “The denomination has declined to adopt such a creed.” HERE IS ANOTHER STATEMENT WHICH IS UNTRUE. They have carefully prepared, officially endorsed, printed creed, and enforce every article strictly. We Baptists have our “Articles of Faith,” the Methodists there “Articles of Religion” and the Presbyterians their “Confession of Faith.” Adventists say these are our “creeds” and so they are, and we are not ashamed of them. Seventh-day Adventists have a creed as clearly defined as any of these. Webster defines creed thus: “A definite summary of what is believe; especially, a summary of Christian belief.”

“Our Baptists Articles begin: “We believe, etc.” That is a creed. THE ADVENTIST CREED IS ENTITLED, “FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS.” It says, “The following propositions may be taken as a summary of the principal features of their religious faith.” “They believe” – then follow 29 Articles of Faith. This is exactly Webster’s definition of a creed. If Baptists have a creed so have Adventists. This is published in their year books, listed in their catalogues, for sale in all their offices. I just went to their office here and bought five copies, one cent each, 14 pages. This is just what you asked for, so I send you one. Why did not Elder Wheeler send you one in his letter? Instead, he says they have nothing of that kind! You may sometime learn that the statements of Adventists concerning their objectionable doctrines are not always reliable.

“You see Articles 1 and 2 of that creed give at length their doctrine concerning God and Christ but only mention the Holy Spirit without mentioning His personality in any way. Nor is there any mention of the trinity. These two articles give exactly the information you ask for. WHY DID ELDER WHEELER WITHHOLD THEM FROM YOU? THE ANSWER IS EVIDENT- THEIR STATEMENT IS NOT TRINITARIAN….(The Christian Workers Magazine, Vol 16, pg 84, 85)

This is the historical context behind the introduction of the trinity in Seventh-day Adventism. And the quote that we see above helps us to understand, at least in part, why the Fundamental Principles stopped being published in 1915. Canright knew Adventism very well. He knew about the Fundamental Principles that were published every year and that they were clearly non-trinitarian. In fact he sent a copy to the individual he was corresponding with in the article above. You can imagine how foolish the SDA apologists must have felt. Hence, that very year, the SDA church stopped publishing the non-trinitarian statement! This enabled the church to shelter itself more effectively from Canright’s blistering criticisms.

The historical context of Canright’s criticisms is also necessary in order to understand what F.M. Wilcox did in 1913. He wrote a statement using the word “trinity” and said that this is what the church believed even though the Fundamental Principles did not say this. Why would he do such a thing? It looks like the answer, at least in part, is that it was reactionary theology to Canright. He was trying to defend the church. Let’s read what he wrote:

“For the benefit of those who may desire to know more particularly the cardinal features of the faith held by this denomination, we shall state that Seventh-day Adventists believe,— “1. In the divine Trinity. This Trinity consists of THE ETERNAL FATHER, a personal, SPIRITUAL BEING, omnipotent, omniscient, infinite in power, wisdom, and love; of the Lord Jesus Christ, THE SON OF THE ETERNAL FATHER, through whom all things were created, and through whom the salvation of the redeemed hosts will be accomplished; the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, the one regenerating agency in the work of redemption. (F.M. Wilcox, Review and Herald, Oct 9, 1913)

So at the same time while the non-trinitarian SDA Fundamental Principles were being published, F.M. Wilcox wrote a statement in the Review and Herald saying that SDAs believed in the divine trinity! That is problematic. One claim was being made in the Fundamental Principles while a different claim was being made in the Review. Yet there is another problem too. Pro-trintiarian scholars and ministers in the church today often miss a key fact. While Wilcox did step forward and assert the Personhood of the Holy Spirit he did not repudiate the literal Sonship of God’s begotten Son and neither did he assert that God is a triune Being. In fact he actually implies that the Father and Son are separate beings for he wrote that the Father is “a personal, spiritual being” and that the 2nd Person as “the Son of the eternal Father.” In other words he was not teaching trinitarianism as many SDAs understand it today. What is absent is the three in one concept. That is a point frequently obscured. F.M. Wilcox actually pulled the wording out from the Fundamental Principles and superimposed the word “trinity” onto it. I would suggest that this was a defensive maneuver in response to Canright. Let’s look back at the 1913 statement in the SDA Yearbook.

“1. That there is one God, a personal, SPIRITUAL BEING, the Creator of all things, omnipotent, omniscient, and ETERNAL; infinite in wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, truth, and mercy; unchangable, and everywhere present by his representative, the Holy Spirit. Ps. 139:.

“2. That there is one Lord Jesus Christ, THE SON OF THE ETERNAL FATHER, the one by whom he created all things… (Fundamental Principles, SDA Yearbook 1913)

Now let’s compare that to F.M. Wilcox’s statement:

“1. In the divine Trinity. This Trinity consists of THE ETERNAL FATHER, a personal, SPIRITUAL BEING, omnipotent, omniscient, infinite in power, wisdom, and love; of the Lord Jesus Christ, THE SON OF THE ETERNAL FATHER, through whom all things were created, and through whom the salvation of the redeemed hosts will be accomplished; the Holy Spirit, THE THIRD PERSON of the Godhead, the one regenerating agency in the work of redemption. (F.M. Wilcox, Review and Herald, Oct 9, 1913)

A careful reader will see that Wilcox’s statement dropped the phrase “one God” out and sidestepped the issue of the begotten nature of the Son of God. Gilbert Valentine perceptively observes.

“Although Review editor F.M. Wilcox was able to say in a doctrinal summary in the Review in 1913 that Adventists believed “in the divine Trinity,” his language sidestepped the issue of the etern
al self-existent deity of Christ and was still sufficiently vague as to be able to include both the traditional semi-Arians and the Trinitarians. Jesus was simply “the son of the Eternal Father.” (http://sdanet.org/atissue/trinity/valentine)

It is also important to note that this 1913 statement avoids the issue of omnipresence and thus does not define the Holy Spirit as the means of God being omnipresent. As we pointed out earlier, M.C. Wilcox, that is Francis’ brother, actually did not believe in the Personhood of the Spirit like SDA trinitarians today do.

Now why is F.M. Wilcox writing these things? Some argue that he was convinced via EGW’s writings that the trinity was true but I believe a more convincing answer is that Wilcox was refuting Canright’s claims. And interestingly enough Canright dropped the charge that SDAs did not believe in the trinity from the latest edition of his book Seventh-day Adventism Renounced. Why would he do that? Obviously he was paying close attention to the SDA apologists as they were paying close attention to him, particularly the Wilcox brothers.

The impact of D.M. Canright should not be missed here. Even years after his death there was still a continuing SDA response to him. Even as late as 1933 C.P. Bollman attempted to make it out that D.M. Canright taught the trinity as a part of the SDA faith back in 1877!

“That the full force of these and of other texts making mention of the Holy Spirit as a personal being has always been recognized among us as a people, does not admit of serious question. In an article in the REVIEW AND HERALD of April 12, 1877, a worker who was at that time one of our leading preachers and writers said this:

“Do we not all agree that in the providence of God, special light is now being given upon the subjects of the second advent near, the kingdom, the new earth, the sleep of the dead, the destruction of the wicked, the doctrine of the Trinity, the law of God, God’s holy Sabbath, etc. ? All Seventh-day Adventists will agree in these things.”

…They do us wrong who deny that Seventh-day Adventists are Trinitarians (RH Aug 3, 1933)

William Branson made a similar argument:

“In chapter 1, page 25, paragraph 2 of his work, he professes to enumerate the doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that differ from those held by other evangelical churches. His very first statement of these differences is, “They reject the doctrine of the Trinity.” Had Mr. Canright said that when he was among them there were some Seventh day Adventists who did not believe the doctrine of the Trinity, it might have been difficult to challenge his statement. But his sweeping indictment, involving, as it does, the whole denomination, is not true today, nor was it true when made. And this Mr. Canright well knew, for in an article which he published in the Review and Herald, the Seventh-day Adventist Church paper, under date of April 12, 1877, he himself had said:

“Do we not all agree that in the providence of God, special light is now being given upon the subjects of the second advent near, the kingdom, the new earth, the sleep of the dead, the destruction of the wicked, the doctrine of the Trinity, the law of God, God’s holy Sabbath, etc.? All Seventh day Adventists will agree in these things.” (In Defense of the Faith 154, 155)

Here we see a clear example of revisionist history. Bollman and Branson have attempted to make Canright’s 1877 statement about “special light” on “the doctrine of the trinity” into an endorsement of the doctrine. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s actually quote Canright himself, one year later, in 1878 to properly understand what “special light” was being given upon the trinity doctrine.

“The Bible says nothing about the trinity. God never mentions it, Jesus never named it, the apostles never did. “Now men dare to call God, Trinity, Triune, etc.” — (D.M. Canright, Review and Herald, August 29th 1878, ‘The Personality of God’)

Thus it is impossible to interpret Canright’s 1877 statement as an endorsement of the doctrine. The “special light” which Canright mentions back then was light against the doctrine of the trinity not for it! And Branson’s claim that Canright’s claim was not true when it was made is also highly questionable, especially considering what the Fundamental Principles declared to be the unanimous position back then. Unfortunately during this period of Adventism there was a bit of white washing the historical position of the pioneers to make Adventist doctrine seem more palatable to evangelicals.

In this section I have attempted to show the data which shows the trinity entering into Adventism in reaction to Canright’s criticisms. This is an often neglected and very important aspect of the historical framework for this doctrine’s emergence. It also helps us to understand why other SDA writers, like M.C. Wilcox, who was clearly non-trinitarian, began using the word “trinity” in a positive sense. Another example is Uriah Smith, probably the most well known SDA non-trinitarian. Many readers, who are well aware of his doctrine, are astonished to learn that brother Smith also used the word “trinity.”

“Do the Scriptures warrant the praise or worship of the Holy Spirit? If not, does not the last line of the doxology contain an unscriptural sentiment? D. H.

Answer.— We know of no place in the Bible where we are commanded to worship the Holy Spirit, as was commanded in the case of Christ (Heb. 1 : 6), or where we find an example of the worship of the Holy Spirit, as in the case of Christ. Luke 21: 52. Yet in the formula for baptism, the name ” Holy Ghost,” or “Holy Spirit,” is associated with that of the Father and the Son. And if the name can be thus used, why could it not properly stand as a part of the same trinity in the hymn of praise, ” Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost ” (Uriah Smith, RH Oct 27, 1896)

Please notice the year here. This is during that window of time when the church was under tremendous pressure from the critics as being an anti-trinitarian denomination. Brother Smith fields this question from D.H. and uses the word “trinity” to justify singing praise to the Holy Ghost! Yet was he a trinitarian? No, he was not. Let’s quote him one year later in his book Daniel and Revelation.

“Could not the Father ordain that to such a being worship should be rendered equally with himself, without it’s being idolatry on the part of the worshiper? He has raised him to positions which make it proper that he should be worshiped, and has even commanded that worship should be rendered him, which would not have been necessary, had he been equal with the Father in eternity of existence.” (Daniel and the Revelation, 1897 edition p. 430)

Here brother Smith clearly repudiates the idea that the Son of God had an equality of existence with the Father in eternity! In other words he still clearly adhered to begotten theology! Again quoting him from 1898.

“God alone i
s without beginning. At the earliest epoch when a beginning could be, – a period so remote that to finite minds it is essentially eternity, – appeared the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1. This uncreated Word was the Being, who, in the fulness of time, was made flesh, and dwelt among us. His beginning was not like that of any other being in the universe. It is set forth in the mysterious expressions, “his [God’s] only begotten Son” (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9), “the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14), and, “I proceeded forth and came from God.” John 8:42. Thus it appears that by some divine impulse or process, not creation, known only to Omniscience, and possible only to Omnipotence, the Son of God appeared. And then the Holy Spirit (by an infirmity of translation called .. the Holy Ghost”), the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the divine afflatus and medium of their power, representative of them both (Psalm 139:7), was in existence also. (Uriah Smith, Looking Unto Jesus pg 10, 1898)

Any honest reader can see that this is actually not the trinity at all for brother Smith did not believe that the Son of God existed throughout all eternity past but appeared so long ago that it was to finite minds “essentially eternity.” It was “by some divine impulse or process” that the Son appeared and when this occurred it was “THEN” that the Holy Spirit was representative of Them (Father and Son) Both. If you keep reading he calls this “the evolution of deity” (Ibid pg 13). Eight years earlier in RH, Oct 28, 1890 he wrote:

“This Spirit is the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Christ; the Spirit being the same whether it is spoken of as pertaining to God or Christ.” And again “In one of Christ’s discourses (John 14-16) this Spirit is personified as “the Comforter,” and as such has the personal and relative pronouns, “he,” “him,” and “whom,” applied to it. But usually it is spoken of in a way to show that it cannot be a person, like the Father and the Son. For instance, it is often said to be “poured out” and “shed abroad.” (RH, Oct 28, 1890).

Nothing about his view had changed except he is using a new word to describe it. The 1898 quote irrefutably proves this but he clearly used the word “trinity” in answering an inquiry. I believe the evidence suggests that the church was doing damage control against its critics and this interesting dichotomy of using the word “trinity” yet not being trinitarian is best understood in this historical context of Canright’s criticisms. The development of the trinity in Adventism did not occur in a vacuum and a failure to acknowledge the role that reactionary theology played in its entry ends up making some modern pro-trinitarian defenders present a false narrative.

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One Response


    How D.M. Canright’s most noted Anti-trinitarian article series published among SDA pioneers in 1878 was later debunked almost point by point by Mrs E.G. White. Her utterances placed side by side with Canright’s own show a most amazing contrast which many have not yet seen for themselves.



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