Uriah Smith's Letters to D.M. Canright
Uriah Smith was a long-time supporter and defender of Ellen White. However, for a short period of time, he harbored some doubts about her prophetic gift. In 1882, Uriah Smith became involved in an internal power struggle at Battle Creek College. The new president, Alexander McLearn, was at odds with one of the older teachers named Goodloe Harper Bell. Smith, who was chairman of the school's board, sided with McLearn, as did many of the students, faculty, and local church members. In April he received a "testimony" from Ellen White which was to be read publicly in the Battle Creek Church. According to SDA scholar Denis Kaiser, Smith hesitated to read it publicly for several reasons:1
For a while, he was loathe to defend Sister White against her critics. Finally, on October 2, 1883, he made a public confession that he again had confidence in Ellen White's "testimonies."
Battle Creek, Michigan, March 22, 1883
Dear Brother Canright:
... I was interested in your queries to Uncle George [Butler] on the omissions in ‘Early Writings.’ We have the Marion paper in exchange, and I had noticed the article. Under the circumstances I think it must have come down on him something like an avalanche; and I have a curiosity to know how he has answered it, as he put a note on the margin that he had answered it. I have no doubt the quotations [given in the Marion paper] are correct. I remember coming across the tract, ‘Word to Little Flock,’ when we were in Rochester, but I have not seen a copy since [i.e., in more than 25 years], and did not know but Experience and Views contained the full text of the early visions. It seems to me that the testimonies, practically, have come into that shape, that it is not of any use to try to defend the erroneous claims that are now put forth for them. At least, after the unjust treatment I received the past year, I feel no burden in that direction. Theoretically, the doctrine of Spiritual Gifts is clear enough, and I think all our people stand together on that. Bro. Littlejohn has preached on the subject here, treating it mostly from a theoretical standpoint. But that does not touch the question at issue among us at all. I presume you noticed in the Review of March 13 Bro. Waggoner’s extinguisher of the Mormon Gifts. But if the same reasoning will not apply somewhat to our own experience, I cannot see straight. The cases of Fuller, Cornell and Smith Sharp are stunners to me. If all the brethren were willing to investigate this matter candidly and broadly, I believe some consistent, common ground for all to stand upon, could be found. But some, of the rule or ruin spirit, are so dogmatical and stubborn that I suppose that any effort in that direction would only lead to a rupture of the body. I am sorry the meeting of the Michigan Ministerial Association has ignominiously fallen through this year. The two difficulties it had to contend against, as I view it, are first, a lack of literary taste on the part of many ministers. But this should be overcome, and I think could be, by practice and constant pressure. But second, the greatest I believe to be a fear on the part of the powers that be, of free thought and free discussion. So far as this is the case, it is a shame and a disgrace to us...
Very truly yours,
Battle Creek, Michigan, April 6, 1883
Dear Brother Canright:
Yours of March 24 was duly received. I herewith return Bro. Butler’s letter, as you request, having read it, or spoken of it, only to Bro. Gage. Eld B. [Butler] writes to others making a very light matter of the omissions from ‘Early Writings.’ He write to Bro. M.C. Wilcox, now in this office, that if enough is made of the matter so that it call for an answer, if none of our ‘Great Writers’ see fit to reply to it, he will try his hand at it. In regard to writing for the Review, the plan is to send requests to some nineteen different persons, and if all should write more than from one to three moderately lengthy articles, there would not be room for them in the paper, so that limit was fixed as to length. We would like one from you sufficient to go through say three numbers. I intend to write for the next paper a synoptical article on that subject, but if I should, it would in no wise interfere with what you might say on the subject. I do not take the disconsolate view of our experiences that you seem to; for if the visions should drop out entirely, it would not affect my faith on our Biblical theories at all; hence, I should not consider my experience worthless, nor my life thrown away; for I am rooted and grounded in our doctrines. I believe the system of prophetic interpretation we present is sound, and that so far as we have been instrumental in presenting it to the world, we have done a good work. I did not learn any of these things from the visions, and they don’t stand on their authority. You ask if there is any way out. I do not know, or rather, while there must be some way through present difficulties (for God will carry on and bring through His own work) I do not now see what that way is. The idea has been studiously instilled into the minds of the people that to question the visions in the least is to become at once a hopeless apostate and rebel; and too many, I am sorry to say, have not strength of character enough to shake off such a conception, hence the moment anything is done to shake them on the visions, they lose faith in everything and go to destruction. I believe this state of things never would have occurred had the position of our people on this manifestation of the gifts been correct. If our people would come together and calmly, candidly, kindly, and freely deliberate upon this matter, I believe, as I have said to you and others, that a consistent position could be found, which would free the subject from difficulties, meet and satisfy the scoutings of an intelligent public, and not rob the gift of whit of the good it was intended to do. But there are too many doggedly bigoted and stubborn to offer any very flattering outlook in this direction. If the matter could be got along with without any violent disruption anywhere, it would be better. This is what I dislike, and fought against in our college troubles. I should like very much to see you and canvass together some of these questions. I may sometime accept your invitation and visit Otsego. You see by the Review that I get out occasionally. Tomorrow I go to Marshall - joint meeting of Marshall, Convis and Newton. A week from today I go to Hillsdale on the invitation of Bro. Lamson to attend their district quarterly meeting the 14th and 15th. The conception of a state of things that might exist among us occasionally flashes through my mind, when love and harmony would prevail; where there would be concert and union of action, a recognition of each other’s rights and a courage and inspiration to make the land echo with the sound of the glorious truth, as souls are pointed to the Savior as their hope and refuge. Let us live as near right as we can, be watchful against all devices of the enemy to destroy our spiritual life, and hope in God for his providence to guide us in these times of danger. Dr. Sprague [an Adventist Physician] joined the Presbyterian Church last Sunday, and I am informed that his mother and Sister Nelson are to join next Sunday.
Battle Creek, Michigan, July 31, 1883
Dear Bro. Canright:
Yours of July 28 is at hand. I have shown it to Bro. Gage as you request. It is true G.I.B. [Butler] has asked me to write something for the proposed Supplement [in reply to A.C. Long’s attack], and in the presence of Brn. Littlejohn and Fargo, has urged it hard; or rather they three together have urged me to it. But I have not yet made up my mind to say anything, because I do not know that I can say that will be of any particular help to them. I told these brethren so plainly. And my reason is that Sr. W. has herself shut my mouth. In the ‘Special Testimony to the B.C. [Battle Creek] Church,’ quoted in the ‘Sab. Advocate Extra,’ (both of which I suppose you have seen) she has published me as having rejected not only that testimony, but all the testimonies. Now if I say that I haven’t rejected them, I thereby show that I have, for I contradict this one. But if I say that I have, that will not do them any good that I can see, but will be saying that which I have not supposed to be true. Her attack on me seems to me most uncalled for and unjust. I told the brethren that I did not understand why she seemed so anxious, and in such haste, to publish me to the world as a disbeliever in the testimonies. She has forced me without cause into a very embarrassing position, because if I say nothing, of course it will be taken as a virtual acknowledgment of the correctness of the charges. But if I do say anything, I must speak my convictions, which will not be at all satisfactory to them. I have just written a letter to Bro. Waggoner on the subject giving my position quite fully. I am going to keep a copy, and if you would like to see it, I will send it out to you to read and return. I would like to have you see some correspondence I have had with Sr. W. ...
In haste and love,
Yours, U. Smith
Battle Creek, Michigan, Aug. 7, 1883
Dear Bro. Canright:
Yours mailed yesterday is at hand. I enclose in this what I wrote to Bro. Waggoner on the question before us. The first part of the letter was on some criticism of Hebrew words which you would not care to see. I have concluded to write a little for the ‘Supplement’ for this reason: those who write in the ‘Advocate Extra’, most of them, manifest a spitefulness and bitterness of feeling which I cannot affiliate with, and do not wish to be considered as endorsing. In this I state, what I have told you, that I still hold that Sr. W. has been shown things in vision, and that this is a manifestation of Spiritual gifts; but they do not stand on a level with the Scriptures, and should not be made a test of fellowship. I close by saying that they should manifest ‘more of that charity which the apostle sets forth as more desirable than all gifts and without which even the best gifts are but a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.’ I am aware that what I have written will not materially help my case in regard to the testimonies; for it brings me into direct antagonism with what Sr. W. has last published about me, which the ‘Advocate’ of course will not be slow to pick up. But I think Bro. Green has prematurely set this ball rolling, and we shall not be likely to see so decisive steps taken at our next annual meetings as we should doubtless otherwise have seen. I should not have said anything, had not these men embarrassed the situation by rushing in and manifesting the spirit they do. Logically, my case cannot be let alone till I have acknowledged what Sr. W. Wrote in our School troubles, which I have no evidence was or is vision, and as I write to Bro. W., I know I have to discriminate between ‘testimony’ and ‘visions.’ Well, I think I know myself as well as Sr. W. knows me. And I leave all these things in the hand of God, determined to seek to do his will here, and find a place in his kingdom hereafter.
Battle Creek, Michigan, Oct. 2, 1883
Dear Bro. Canright:
Yours of the 28th was duly received. Should have been very glad to see you at the C.M. We had in some respects a most powerful meeting. A.N. Seymour and wife were present, Sabbath and Sunday, and even he acknowledged to Bro. Dodge that it seemed like 1844. Wish you could have been here. Both myself and Harriet have had a talk with Sr. W., and in many things wherein my mind was most severely perplexed, it has been relieved, which of course makes me feel quite differently. Then again, I have had opportunity to learn that quite a good many are disposed to be affected by my course in their relation to this cause. I am very vulnerable on the point of standing in another’s way. I would rather do almost anything than that. Of course, I would not think it would make so much difference, if others would go no farther than I go. But they do not stop there. Right or wrong, they have got the idea fast in their minds that the testimonies and the messages stand or fall together; and if they give up the former they give up the latter also. Now I would much rather a person would be radical on the testimonies, even if they are not all what they claim to be, than give up the present truth; for this latter I believe to be vital to our future well-being. So the best light I see for myself is to case my influence in so far as it will go, with the body, and wait further developments.
Sr. W., is certainly doing a work which no other person seems fitted for doing, and which is of great value to this cause. So I will get along with my private trials and hold them in abeyance for the general good.
1. Denis Kaiser, "Trust and Doubt: Perceptions of Divine Inspiration in Seventh-day Adventist History (1880 .. 1930)," Doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, Dec. 2016.
Category: Pioneer Documents
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