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Recovering the Legacy of Anne Dutton (1692-1765): Forgotten Female Baptist Theologian of the 18th Century

Greetings All,

     This week I was given a copy of the January 2015 issue of The Banner of Truth.  While reading it I came across an article entitled, "George Whitefield's Impact Upon The Trans-Atlantic Baptist Community,"  by Michael A. G. Haykin.  I have always enjoyed reading about Whitefield (the most famous evangelist of the First Great Awakening) and so I started skimming the article.
     Yet, as a result of what I found there I'm not going to focus on Whitefield as much as I'm going to focus on a little known woman, and friend of Whitefield, named Anne Dutton.  For during a time when women were restricted from many aspects of ministry, she carried on a significant ministry using her pen.  According to Michael Sciretti, who wrote his doctoral thesis on her, she was "probably the most prolific woman writer in the eighteenth century, Baptist or otherwise."  She became well-known on both sides of the Atlantic.
     Anne was born in the early 1690's. She became a "Particular Baptist" (Calvinist Baptist) around 1713, and married a Baptist gentleman named Thomas Cattell in 1715. They were only married for four years before he died in 1719.  Anne married a second time in 1720 to a Baptist pastor named Benjamin Dutton.
     Over the next 20 years she wrote books, poems, pamphlets and tracts, and corresponded with numerous well-known Christian leaders including George Whitefield, Howell Harris, John Wesley and William Seward.  Her purpose? To inspire them, "by infusing them with confidence, intention, steadfastness, and courage, boldly urging them to greater service and devotion to Christ and the gospel." (Sciretti)
     William Seward, Whitefield's co-worker, wrote to Anne in 1739, and when she responded, Seward confessed it was, "full of such comforts and direct answers to what I had been writing that it filled my eyes with tears of joy."  In the mid-1740's her husband Benjamin headed to America preaching and promoting Anne's books, only to drown on the return trip in 1747 when the ship he was traveling on went down in the Atlantic. 

Anne had corresponded with Whitefield from 1739-1744, a lady he considered her a close friend.  It was a crucial period for Whitefield as he was forming his doctrinal convictions about Calvinism.  He wrote to her, "Help me by your prayers. It is an ease thus to unbossom one's self to a friend, and an instance of my confidence in you." 
     A few months later, after visiting her, he would confide in a friend, "her conversation is as weighty as her letters."  Whitefield then encouraged her to write to a number of his friends in America, saying, "I am willing your usefulness should be as extensive as may be. May the Lord bless you ever, more and more."
     In the debate that arose in the 1740's regarding Wesley's doctrine of attainable Christian perfection, Anne was instrumental in clarifying the biblical position. She actually helped Whitefield, "think through the issue biblically and stand firm on his convictions." (Haykin)

     From I John 3:2 and II Corinthians 3:18, for example, she maintained:

     "Our imperfection in holiness, which arises from the being and working of sin in our corrupt nature, is necessarily implied... for the Apostle says, "When He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is." He does not say we are like Him,... but we shall be like Him. And he gives the great cause of this great effect -- for we shall see Him as He is. Sight of Christ is the cause of likeness to Him. Sight of Christ, partial in this life, produceth partial likeness. Sight of Christ total in the life to come will produce total likeness to Him. First in our souls, during a separate state, and then in our whole persons after the resurrection of the just. Then, and not till then, shall we be perfectly like Christ, in holiness and glory. Holiness, which is the glory of the soul, is the effect of us beholding the glory of the Lord, as 2 Cor. 3:18: 'But we all with open face, beholding 'as in a glass' the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord."  Whence we may likewise note, that the change of the soul into the image of God, is imperfect, with respect to degrees, and a progressive work while in this life. It is from 'glory to glory.' The New Testament saints, if compared with the Old, have an open-faced view of the glory of God in Christ; and a more glorious change into His image. But if compared with that vision of God which we shall have in glory, we see but darkly."
     I found it interesting that Whitefield and others found such great help (emotionally, spiritually and theologically) from Mrs. Dutton's counsel and writings. Her name is all but forgotten and unknown to most, but her spiritual legacy carries on through the more well-known men she encouraged through her books and correspondences.
     Quite a testimony, and I hope an encouraging one, for all those who work tirelessly behind the scenes lending aide to those on the "front lines of ministry."  We sometimes forget how important the ministry of "encouraging the saints" really is.  Maybe some day someone will re-publish Anne's books that even more may benefit from her spiritual insights and biblical wisdom.

Blessings to all -- especially you behind-the-scenes workers for the Gospel,  Pastor Jeff