Who Was James Durham?
February 11, 2016
People are familiar with the English Puritans, but what about thier Scottish contemporaries? With this post I hope to begin a small series of posts on one of the great Scots theologians, James Durham (1622-1658). Whilst the name James Durham is relatively unknown today, he is one of the outstanding Reformed theologians of the Puritan age. In this post I give a brief sketch of Durham’s life and significance; in future posts I will unpack some of his teachings.
Durham was born in 1622 in the best of all countries (!), Scotland. However, as a young man he "did not stand well affected to the presbyterial government." Indeed, it was not until he was persuaded by his wife’s family to go and hear the minister Ephraim Melvin that he came to know Christ. Melvin preached on 1 Peter 2:7, "Unto you therefore which believe he is precious" (KJV) and it was said that the minister "so sweetly and seriously opened up the preciousness of Christ, and the Spirit wrought so on his spirit, that in that sermon he first closed with Christ."
Upon his conversion Durham’s life changed. Before he lived with all the leisure of young a country gentleman. Now it was said, "The young laird made no secret of his convictions whether in public or private, was zealous in personal devotion and conscientious in family worship, and now interested himself keenly in the welfare of the Church."
Durham’s Life in the Ministry
Durham’s life overlapped with many significant ecclesiastical and political events. He was involved in the Scottish army’s engagements during the English Civil War. After leaving the army he was ordained the year the Scottish Church adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) having been persuaded by David Dickson (Professor of Divinity in Glasgow University) to devote himself to the ministry.
After an initial pastorate, Durham was successively called to be Professor of Divinity in Glasgow University, chaplain to Charles II during his ill-fated initial period as King of Scotland, and after Charles’ flight into exile, Durham was again a Pastor in Glasgow. Durham also sat on many key committees of the Scottish Church and was instrumental in trying to hold the Church together through the disaster of the divisive Protestor/Resolutioner controversy. Durham died in 1658 at the young age of 36. Samuel Rutherford said that his death was a "real loss to the church of God."
As can be seen from the positions the Scottish church called him to Durham was deeply respected in his day. William Blaikie rightly said, "It is certain that of all the outstanding preachers and theologians of that age none was spoken of with more respect and reverence by his contemporaries." These comments are borne out by the words of Robert Baillie, a member of the Westminster Assembly, and one of the Presbytery who ordained Durham, who said: "I did live to the very last with him in great and uninterrupted love, and in an high estimation of his remarkable accomplishments, which made him to me precious among the most excellent divines I have been acquainted with in the whole Isle." Such testimonies could easily be further multiplied, not least from John Owen and John Flavel.
Durham’s biographer stated: "For six generations after Durham’s death his sermons, expositions and devotional writings were a delight and a strength to the religious of the land." It is to our detriment his writings are not better known today. A number, however, have been reprinted by Naphtali Press, Soli Deo Gloria, and the Banner of Truth. Stay tuned as over the coming weeks I hope we will be acquainted with a number of them on this blog.
Some of his key works are:
- With David Dickson, The Sum of Saving Knowledge. First published 1650.
- A Commentarie Upon the Book of the Revelation. First published 1658. [Reprinted by Old Paths Publications in 2000 but now out of print]
- The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland or, A Treatise Concerning Scandal. First published 1659.
- Clavis Cantici: An Exposition of the Song of Solomon. First published 1668. [Reprinted by Banner of Truth in 1982 but now out of print]
- A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments. First published 1675.
- Christ Crucified: Or, the Marrow of the Gospel. First published 1683.
- The Unsearchable Riches of Christ. First published 1685. [Reprinted by Soli Deo Gloria Publications but now out of print]