In 1731, when Benjamin Dutton received a call to become the pastor of a congregation in Great Gransden, in Huntingtonshire, Winckles and seven other men signed a letter stating that God had granted Dutton “Repentance and Remission of Sins … and that he has been enabled to walk for a considerable Time as becometh the Gospel.” In his book, Dutton lists the Scriptures that had been particularly helpful to him in his struggle and gives God the credit for turning him from alcohol, so much that he acquired an “aversion to it.” The key to his recovery, he said, was his growing knowledge of God in Christ.
Benjamin Dutton is not a recognizable name in Church history. He is usually remembered in passing as the second husband of Anne Dutton, the 18th-century writer who confuted Wesley’s strive for earthly perfection and won the praises of George Whitefield and other theologians of her time.
Benjamin caught my attention because of his honest account of his struggle with alcoholism, a familiar struggle, albeit frequently hushed, in the history of the church (we could go as far back as to the fourth century, with the youthful addiction of Monica, mother of Augustine of Hippo).
Benjamin described his experience in a book with a long title typical of his age: The Superaboundings of the Exceeding Riches of God’s Free-grace, Towards the Chief of the Chief of Sinners Shewn Forth in the Lord’s Gracious Dealings with … Benjamin Dutton.
In the preface, he admits that he had been tempted to keep the whole matter secret. “Satan has suggested to my Mind that I should be very foolish to lay my Sin open to all the world.”
In the end, he became convinced that writing his experience would contribute to God’s glory and to the benefit of others. “For every Thing will be brought into Judgment, whether it be good or evil. And what matters if it be laid open a little beforehand? What matters if I, a poor vile Worm, am debased, so that Christ and Free Grace are exalted; and some poor, dejected, sorrowful Souls comforted, strengthened, and brought to rely upon the Lord Jesus hereby?”
Dutton’s Early Life
Benjamin Dutton was born on February 16, 1691 in Steppingley, a small village in Bedfordshire. His father Matthew, a pastor, had gone through a rough time in his youth, which included heavy drinking – so much that he was convinced “that he would perish in this course.”
“But God,” Benjamin wrote, “whose thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor his ways our ways, but are as high above them as the heavens are upon the earth, having loved him with his great love, even when dead in sins, prevented him by his grace and plucked him as a brand out of the burning.”
Eventually, Benjamin’s father left his inordinate life, became a pastor, married, and had six children. Benjamin was the youngest.