About D. M. Canright
Canright, arguably, is one of the most influential figures in the history of Seventh-day Adventist trinitarianism. This would be true while he was an Adventist and perhaps, even more so, after he denounced his faith in Adventism. There are several key points to make here.
1) Dudley Canright is really the first SDA to argue that the Son of God was begotten and not created:
“According to this, Jesus Christ is begotten of God IN A SENSE THAT NO OTHER BEING IS; else he could not be his only begotten Son. Angels are called sons of God, and so are righteous men; but Christ is his Son in a higher sense, in a closer relation, that either of these. God made men and angels out of materials already created. He is the author of their existence, their Creator, hence their Father. But Jesus Christ was begotten of the Father’s own substance. HE WAS NOT CREATED OUT OF MATERIAL AS THE ANGELS AND OTHER CREATURES WERE. He is truly and emphatically the “Son of God,” the same as I am the son of my father. This will appear more plain as we proceed …. If he was the “beginning” of God’s creation, he must be a created being. This interpretation may be correct, YET IT IS MY OPINION THAT IT IS NOT. 1. It is the only text in the Bible from which this idea can be drawn. 2. IT SEEMS TO CONTRADICT MANY OTHER TEXTS WHICH MOST DEFINITELY STATE THAT CHRIST HIMSELF CREATED ALL THINGS. 3. If he is a created being, he cannot be worthy of worship of other created beings. 4. I SEE NOT HOW HE COULD BE THE “ONLY BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD” IF HE WAS CREATED BY GOD THE SAME AS OTHER CREATURES …At least THERE IS NO SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE IN THE TEXT TO PROVE THAT CHRIST IS A CREATED BEING” (D.M. Canright, RH June 18, 1867)
This argument from Canright won the day and by the 1880s this was the dominant view within Seventh-day Adventism – that Christ was begotten and this was NOT Him being a created being.
2) Dudley Canright’s view was that Personhood meant having bodily form.
He viewed Personhood as necessarily tied to having a bodily form. Now Canright was a very forceful personality and he pushed his views very hard. However, on this particular aspect, he was wrong. Sister White very clearly asserted that the holy Spirit was a “Person”, albeit not in the same sense as God the Father and His Son is but a “Person” nonetheless, and thus his view was incorrect. A better expression actually comes from J.H. Waggoner who wrote the following in his little work entitled “The Spirit of God”
“‘There is one question which has been much controverted in the theological world upon, which we have never presumed to enter. It is that of the personality of the Spirit of God. Prevailing ideas of person are very diverse, often crude, and the word is differently understood; so that unity of opinion on this point cannot be expected until all shall be able to define precisely what they mean by the word, or until all shall agree upon one particular sense in which the word shall be used. But as this agreement does not exist, it seems that a discussion of the subject cannot be profitable, especially as it is not a question of direct revelation. We have a right to be positive in our faith and our statements only when the words of Scripture are so direct as to bring the subject within the range of positive proof. We are not only willing but anxious to leave it just where the Word of God leaves it. From it we learn that the Spirit of God is that awful and mysterious power which proceeds from the throne of the universe, and which is the efficient actor in the work of creation and of redemption.” (The Spirit of God pg 8, 9)
Here we see that there is room to call the Spirit a “Person” without making It (or Him) into exactly the same type of Person or Being as God the Father or His only begotten Son. This is a point which Canright rejected and one in which he was overbold in his assertion.
3) Finally D.M. Canright was influential in shaping SDA trinitarianism because after he left the church for the final time he became the foremost critic of the denomination. His 1889 book, Seventh-day Adventism Renounced, attacked SDAs as rejecting the doctrine of the trinity. This book was very popular and became the chief weapon used against SDAs. It was reaction to this criticism that first brought the word “trinity” into Seventh-day Adventism in a positive sense.
Jason Smith’s paper at Southern Adventist University entitled, “The Unaccounted Factor: How Criticism Motivated The Adoption of Trinitarian Theology Within Seventh-day Adventism” traces this history. Canright was such an influential factor here that for decades, even after his death, SDA leaders distorted the history about the original pioneer position to undercut the influences of his criticisms. Below is just one example for the sake of time.
“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 (C.P. Bollman, Review and Herald, August 3rd, 1933)
Here we see Bollman arguing that the holy Spirit had always been recognized as a personal being by the SDA people. He then tried to quote Canright from April 12, 1877 as proof! Now of course this is utter and total nonsense even at the op proves because 1 year later in 1878 Canright was clearly teaching that the holy Spirit was NOT a person!
Unfortunately there has been some playing fast and loose with the data when it comes to this subject (on both sides) but the reality is that the truth is actually somewhere in the middle. I hope these comments serve as a primer to help God’s people to find it.
Other statements by Canright
WHAT IS THE JOY OF OUR LORD?
D. M. Canright, Review and Herald – February 23, 1869
“What was this joy that was set before him, for which he endured so much? It must be something that he did not possess before, or else he would not have had it set before him as an object to be attained by suffering. Then it was not immortality, for he bad that before; nor health, nor riches, nor honor, nor holiness, nor the blessing of God, for all these he possessed before. He was the only begotten Son of the God of all the universe.”
Answer to “Inquirer.”
D. M. Canright, Review and Herald – November 1, 1877
“Jesus Christ was God’s own, yea, only divine Son, begotten of the Father’s own substance. He was not a created being like men or angels… Indeed, it was Christ the Son, who created this earth; yes, and all the worlds on high, Heb. 1. Not only so, but Christ created the angels themselves. Col. 1:15. He is a divine Being, infinitely higher than the highest angel; yet the Father is higher than he. Hear Christ’s own language: “My Father is greater than I” John 14:28. Again, “The Son can do nothing of himself.” John 5:19. Again, “I live by the Father.” John 6:57.
“All that Christ is the Father hath made him. Thus Jesus said, “All power is given unto me in Heaven and in earth.” Matt. 28:18. Who gave it to him? The Father. Then the Father is a distinct person, greater than the Son, but Christ is truly his Son; hence a divine Being.”
The Sonship of Christ. – JESUS CHRIST IS CALLED GOD
D. M. Canright, Signs of the Times – May 30, 1878
“If our position be correct, that Christ is truly the Son of God, begotten of the Father’s own substance, then of course it would be proper for him to take the name of his Father, that is God.”
Further reading, check out the article, “Dudley Canright and the SDA trinity” by Jason Smith.
Background on the article, Personality of God:
James White published the following article, just seven days before Canright published his article, “Personality of God,” in the Review and Herald, which shows that Ellen White and James White were both intimately involved in assisting Canright with the revision of his article:
“MRS. WRITE had-an appointment to speak in the Colorado Tent at Boulder City, on the evening of the 11th, so in the morning we took Elder Canright to the place with us, where we parted with him the morning of the 12th, he to take the cars for Battle Creek, to be with his wife, who is reported to be rapidly failing. We parted with this dear brother with feelings of deep: regret that he leaves us before our return, and yet we could not hold him a day from his faithful wife, who deserves his sympathy and care in her last hours. On our journey to this State, and for the first few weeks after our arrival, we, needed his assistance, and he has acted the part of a true Christian brother. We have had many precious seasons of prayer together at the family altar, and when bowed together in the evergreen groves of the mountains. Here we have, after prayer and careful deliberation, decided very important matters pertaining to the cause. And here, too, we have assisted him in the revision of his very valuable work entitled, ” The Bible from Heaven,” and his articles on the Personality of God, the Divinity of Christ, the Father,-Son and Holy Spirit, to be published in pamphlet form; while he has assisted us on some important works. We have now been together six weeks, and every day from the, first our union has grown stronger and more dear. May the blessing of God go -with him. We hope to meet him at the General Conference, both of us in the enjoyment of health and the blessing of God. (Review and Herald, August 22, 1878, pg. 68 “The Colorado Tent”)
It is a well known Adventist history that there have been other books such as “Daniel and the Revelation” by Uriah Smith or the “Christ and His Righteousness” by E. J. Waggoner, where Ellen White strongly endorsed their books. Valid argument can be made here that Ellen White was well acquainted with these works and was aware of the non-trinitarian sentiments contained within these articles and books and yet she not only endorsed them, but assisted (in the case of Canright’s “Personality of God”) and furthermore did not in anyway objected to its contents. Thus, for those, who say Ellen White was silent on the issue of trinity, her silence speaks loudly in support of non-trinitarian view and they would do well to tread cautiously when it comes to making claims as to where she stood on the issue.
“‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,’ &c. According to this, Jesus Christ is begotten of God in a sense that no other being is; else he could not be his only begotten Son. Angels are called sons of God, and so are righteous men; but Christ is his Son in a higher sense, in a closer relation, than either of these. God made men and angels out of materials already created. He is the author of their existence, their Creator, hence their Father. But Jesus Christ was begotten of the Father’s own substance. He was not created out of material as the angels and other creatures were. He is truly and emphatically the ‘Son of God,’ the same as I am the son of my father.” D.M. Canright, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, June 18, 1867
“By this we see that a very plain and great distinction is made between the Son and all the angels. They are all commanded to worship him. No created being can ever be worthy of worship, however high he may be, neither would
it be right nor just for God to bid one order of his creatures to worship another. Divinity alone is worthy of worship, and to worship anything else would be idolatry. Hence Paul places Christ far above the angels, and makes a striking contrast between them.” — (D.M. Canright, Review and Herald, June 18, 1867)
The Christian Sabbath.
D. M. Canright
Review and Herald – November 5, 1872
“Nothing could be plainer than these statements proving that Jesus Christ made our world. But does the Bible not say that the Faather did it? Yes; but it tells us how he did it, that is by Jesus Christ, or through his agency. “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.” Eph. 3:9. Jesus Christ, then, created the world by the authority of the Father; or, to say the very least, in connection with his Father. Then did he not work the first six days? Certainly. Then did he not here rest on the seventh day? most assuredly. Then did not that make it his rest day, his Sabbath day as much as it did the Sabbath day of his Father? None can deny this. Then is not that the Christian Sabbath? The conclusion seem as plain to us as the shining sun. This fact shows further that Christ is as much interested in the holiness of the seventh-day Sabbath as the Father is. Hence he could truly say, Mark 2:28, “The Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath day.” This is indeed the Lord’s day whether we speak of the Father or the Son.”
“All trinitarian creeds make the Holy Ghost a person, equal in Substance, power, eternity; and glory with the Father and Son. Thus they claim three’ persons in the trinity, each one equal with both the others. If this be so, then the Holy Spirit is just as truly an, individual intelligent person as is the Father or the Son. But this we cannot believe. The Holy Spirit is not a person. In all our prayers we naturally conceive of, God as a person, and of the Son as a person; but who ever conceived of the Holy Ghost as ‘being a person, standing there beside the Father and equal with him? Such a conception never enters any one’s mind. If you say that it does, we ask of What form is the’ Holy Ghost ? Is it like the Father and Son, in the form of a man? Who can tell? Again, the Father himself is said to be a spirit. Are there, then, two spirits, both divine, both God, both equal to each other, both alike ? Then how is one different from the other ? God is said to be a spirit ; and it is everywhere declared that the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of God. Is it then the spirit of a spirit What kind of spirit would that be? Again, “God is a spirit.” John. 4:24. Now if the Holy Ghost is a distinct person from the Father, here are two spirits.” (D. M. Canright, Signs of the Times, July 25, 1878)
Setting the record straight
(Shout out to Jason Smith for providing some great resource on the subject.)
Some point to DM Canright and have made false historical narrative. They say that the “special light” in the below statement refers to Canright declaring that the “special light” was then “shining” upon our early church with respect to certain doctrinal subjects which the early Adventists came to accept eventually including the doctrine of Trinity.
“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.” (Review and Herald, April 12, 1877)
Now, where is the evidence that point to “special light” being the truthfulness of Trinity which early Adventists eventually accepted? When Canright and other pioneers continued to publish statements that went against it. Canright’s own words, published in the following year contradicts the charge:
“All trinitarian creeds make the Holy Ghost a person, equal in substance, power, eternity and glory with the Father and Son. Thus they claim three persons in the trinity, each one equal with both the others. If this be so, then the Holy Spirit is just as truly an individual intelligent person as is the Father or the Son. But this we cannot believe. The Holy Spirit is not a person (D.M. Canright, “The Holy Spirit Not A Person, But An Influence Proceeding From God” Signs of the Times July 25th, 1878)
Again we read from SDA Canright in 1878:
“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’)
The “special light” on the doctrine of the Trinity that Canright was speaking of was the light that revealed the falsity of trinity which caused the whole SDA church to unanimously reject it!
Furthermore, Canright’s own account in his book, “Seventh-day Adventism Renounced” affirms that Seventh-day Adventists rejected the Trinity doctrine during this period in its church history:
“In doctrine they [Seventh-day Adventists] differ radically from evangelical churches. The main points are these: They reject the doctrine of the Trinity; hold to the materiality of all things; believe in the sonship of Christ…” (bracket added) (D. M. Canright, Seventh-day Adventism Renounced-1889, 6th edition)
Seventh-day Adventism Renounced 1889, 6th Edition, pg 25;
It’s worth noting that Canright’s charge that Seventh-day Adventists reject the trinity appears in the first edition and the earlier editions but was expunged from later editions of His book (6th edition above clearly shows the statement, “They reject the doctrine of the Trinity” on pg. 25; but the later edition-14th edition below has omitted the statement on the same page), 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.
D. M. Canright corroborates his own statement ( “They reject the doctrine of the Trinity”) in the following article in the October issue of The Christian Worker’s Magazine: as a response to Lee S. Wheeler’s article in June, 1915 issue of the same magazine:
“Seventh-day Adventists and the Doctrine of the Trinity
“By Rev. D. M. Canright, Grand Rapids, Mich.
“EDITOR of The Christian Workers Magazine: In the June number of your magazine, under the above title, you say that in a previous issue, by request, you gave a summary of the Seventh-day Adventists doctrines in which you said, “THEY REJECT THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY.” For this Elder Wheeler, an Adventist minister, “took you to task” and convinced you of error on this point. So you apologized and corrected your statement.
“IN MY BOOK, “SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISM RENOUNCED, PAGE 25, I give a summary of their doctrines and USE EXACTLY THESE WORDS. So I judge you accepted my statement as reliable. I now re-affirm my statement: “THEY REJECT THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY” AS HELD BY EVANGELICAL CHURCHES, AS THE PREVIOUS LINE IN MY BOOKS STATES. But Elder Wheeler says: “I regard our position upon the trinity as in harmony with that of other evangelical churches.”
“HIS STATEMENT IS UNTRUE. Either he does not know the doctrine of his church or has not read their standard works, or else he misleads you….
“What shall we say to Elder Wheeler’s assertion that Adventists 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…. 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 trintiarian….” (D.M. Canright The Christian Workers Magazine Volume 16, pg 84, 85 October 1915)
Lee S. Wheeler response:
“EDITORS of The Christian Workers Magazine:
“In your October number under the heading “Seventh-day Adventists and the Doctrine of the Trinity,” appeared an article from Rev. D. M. Canright in which he attempts to show that this religious body rejects the doctrine of the trinity, involving the Deity of Christ: and in which he strongly attacks my statements published in the June issue, in which I said: “I regard our position upon the trinity as in harmony with that of other evangelical churches.” Mr. Canright declares, “This statement is untrue.” And he adds: “Either he (Elder Wheeler), does not know the doctrine of his church, or has not read its standard works, or else he misleads you.”
“IN THE YEAR 1892 SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS PLACED THEMSELVES PLAINLY BEFORE THE WORLD AS BELIEVERS IN THE EVANGELICAL DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY and the Deity of Christ in the most unequivocal sense of those terms, by adopting and publishing for the general use of its church and missionary societies a treatise entitled “The Bible Doctrine of the Trinity.” It was written by Samuel T. Spear, D. D., a prominent Presbyterian clergyman, pastor of the South Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, N. Y., from 1849, to 1871, and afterward associated editorially with “The Independent,” till the close of his life. The article was published by that ‘religious journal in its issue of November 14, 1889, soon after Dr. Spears’ death. This exceptionally clear, scriptural, and in every way excellent exposition of the Christian doctrine of the trinity, in tract form and bearing the name of its esteemed author, has been in general use among Seventh-day Adventists during the past twenty-three years. I quote the opening paragraph. [cap emphasis added]
“The Bible while not giving a metaphysical definition of the spiritual unity of God, teaches his essential oneness in opposition to all forms of polytheism, and also assumes man’s capacity to apprehend the idea sufficiently for all the purposes of worship and obedience. John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6. The same Bible as clearly teaches that the adorable person known to us as Jesus Christ, when considered in his whole nature, is truly divine and truly God in the most absolute sense. John 1:1-18; 1 John 5:20; Romans 1:3, 4; 9:5; Titus 2:13.”
Mr. Canright appears not to know these facts. (Lee S. Wheeler The Christian Workers Magazine 1915 Vol 16 pg 680, 681)
As this article proves the 1892 document was used to defend against Canright’s attacks. Yet if you study the actual history then you will see that the man who originally published it, M.C. Wilcox, did not even believe in it! He was actually not a trinitarian at all! This suggests that he published it as a sort of trump card to deflect all issues of criticism.