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D. M. Canright on Trinity

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’)

'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)

Text: 'But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things.' 1 Cor.8:6... “At the time when the Bible was written, nearly the whole world had adopted either Polytheism or Pantheism. Polytheism taught that there were many gods...In opposition to that, Moses and the prophets set forth the grand fact that this doctrine of many gods was a lie, and that there was but one God, Jehovah the living God... “'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.' Dt. 6:4. Here we strike the key-note of the doctrine of the Deity. 'The Lord our God is ONE Lord.' Not many, not a thousand, not a hundred, not ten, not three, but only ONE-one God... [Ex. 20:3; Dt. 4:35; 2Sam. 7:22; 2Kings 19:15; Neh. 9:6; Psa. 86:10; Isa. 43:10; Isa 44:6,8; Isa. 45:5,22; quoted] No comments of ours can make these declarations plainer. There is just one eternal God and no more,-one who is the Author and Father of all things.

“Turning to the New Testament, we find the same doctrine taught just as plainly as in the Old. Neither Moses nor the prophets ever set forth the unity of God more strongly than Jesus himself. He taught it and reiterated it many times. Thus he says: 'The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel: The lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul...And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth; for there is one God; and there is none other but he.' Mark 12:29-32. “The scribe said, 'There is one God, and there is none other but he.' To this declaration Jesus assented. 'And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.' John 17:3 Jesus says his Father is the only true God. But Trinitarians contradict this by saying that the Son and Holy Ghost are just as much the true God as the Father is... [1 Cor. 8:4-6 quoted] “Says the great apostle, 'There is none other God but one,' and 'there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things.' He tells us who this one God is. It is not the Holy Ghost; it is not Jesus Christ, but it is the Father. Gal. 3:20; 1 Tim. 1:17.

There is, then, only one wise God. 1 Tim. 2:5; Dt. 6:4. Those who are familiar with the Bible will see that I have selected only a few of the plainest texts upon this doctrine. How the doctrine of the Trinity, of three Gods, can be reconciled with these positive statements I do not know. It seems to me that nothing can be framed which more clearly denies the doctrine of the Trinity, than do the Scriptures above quoted.

“And then the Bible never uses the phrases, 'Trinity,' 'triune God,' 'three in one,' 'the holy three,” 'God the Holy Ghost,' etc. but it does emphatically say there is only one God, the Father. And every argument to prove three Gods in one person, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, all of them of one substance, and every way equal to each other, and all three forming but one, contradicts itself, contradicts reason, and contradicts the Bible... “God is self-existent, and the source and author of all things,-of angels, of men, of all the worlds,-of everything. Thus Paul says, 'For of him and through him and to him, are all things; to whom be glory forever. Amen.' Rom. 11:36. “He is the source of all life and immortality. Thus, speaking of the Father, Paul says, 'Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto.' 1 Tim. 6:16. Notice that this glorious God is the only one who, in himself, possesses immortality. That is, he is the fountain-head, the source of all life and immortality... “'For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.' John 5:26. This statement is unequivocal. The Father has life in himself, and in his great love for his Son he bestows the same gift upon him; but it will be noticed that the Father is the one from whom the gift came... “How carefully Paul distinguishes between the Father and the Son. He says, 'The Father, of whom are all things,' and 'Jesus Christ, by whom are all things.' The Father is the source of everything. Jesus is the one through whom all things are done. All the authority, the glory, and the power of Christ he received from his Father...

“A belief in this doctrine is very important. Indeed, it cannot be too strongly insisted upon. Jesus even declares that the knowledge of this truth is necessary to eternal life. 'And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.' John 17:3. “We must know the Father as the only true God. Then there is no true God besides the Father. But we must also know his Son Jesus Christ, whom he has sent. How simple and plain is this doctrine, and how abundantly sustained by the Holy Bible.” — (D.M. Canright, Review and Herald, August 29, 1878)


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 conceivedof 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.

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, the Seventh-day Adventist Church paper, under the date of 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, 6th edition

Seventh-day Adventism Renounced, 6th edition

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.

 Seventh-day Adventism Renounced, 14th edition

Seventh-day Adventism Renounced, 14th edition

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. 

 

 

About D.M.Canright

The following was provided by Jason Smith:

There really isn't a person more influential in the history of Seventh-day Adventist trinitarianism than Dudley Canright. This is while he was an Adventist and perhaps, even more so, after he was an Adventist. 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. 

The quote in the op actually demonstrates that this was Canright's view. He viewed Personhood as meaning 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 a mysterious one, 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 is 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. 

Now I do not have the time or space to document this but my 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. I will give only 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! 

Other examples could be shown but this is all I have time for right now. 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.

Further reading, check out the article, "Dudley Canright and the SDA trinity" by Jason Smith.