Robert Wodrow’s work Analecta: Or, Materials for a History of Remarkable Providences; Mostly Relating to Scottish Ministers and Christians (4 vols. Edinburgh: Maitland Club, 1842-1843) is an absolutely fascinating work for students of 17th C Scottish theology. Whilst not always entirely accurate it is generally reliable and is really crying out for reprinting in a critical edition as it is very hard to obtain now – maybe I’m old fashioned but being on google books doesn’t count for me! Anyway I posted some material from this a few months ago. Here are some sections from my notes I didn’t include then.
David Dickson in Durham
He [Dickson] had a wonderful opinion of great and worthy Mr Durham … He said somewhat to this purpose of Mr Durham, that ‘He was like a great bottle full of excellent good wine that when it did go to come out it could not well come out… ‘ so Mr Durham had little expression [in preaching or writing] but much good and great matter.
This ties with my own reading of Durham’s sermons. Absolutely fantastic material but lacking the accessibility of the works of say George Swinnock or Thomas Watson. Woodrow notes the same point himself:
Mr Durham was full of great substantial matter, but had not a popular or plausible way of speaking given him, as Mr Carstairs had. Every man has his proper gift of God, one after this manner and another after that. Every man must have some thing to humble him; as Moses, though a great instrument, and man of God, yet was of slow speech, and yet none like him in Israel, in his day; yet of himself a poor foundling cast out in the open field.
MR FRANCIS AIRD … Mr Durham did name Mr Aird to succeed him in the ministry at Glasgow. I heard that Mr Aird was once preaching before the Synod of Glasgow and he was speaking much about the faults of Ministers, and he was weeping much. He began to speak of their apparel, and of their very gloves! He said weeping, ‘And we Ministers, must have our mounted gloves!’ – and Mr Durham was just sitting before him with a pair of good new gloves, and he presently took them off his hand, (it’s said,) and put them up in his pouch!
Nothing particularly theological here – just an interesting anecdote!
Three Great Qualities of James Durham
There was a learned man, Sir James Turner, said this of Mr Durham: ‘He had these three in a considerable manner in him, which are to be found but rarely in one man, viz., great piety, which was evident by his exposition of the Song of Solomon; great prudence, whereof he gave a clear specimen in his book on Scandal; and great learning, and reading, and knowledge in History, whereof he gives a clear specimen in his book on the Revelation.
This is a fine analysis of some of Durham’s qualities. The argument that Durham’s exposition of the Song of Solomon reveals his piety rests on the (correct!) assumption that the Song is a description of the relationship between Christ and believers. Given this, in order to understand this relationship described in the Song, one needs to, first and foremost, have experienced this relationship. The argument goes that the closer a believer is to Christ, the more a soul will experience and understand Christ’s dealing with it, the esasier it will be to expound the Song. So, a when preacher can handle the Song experimentally it was traditionally taken as an indication of the piety of the preacher.
Durham’s learning is highlighted here – and correctly so for it is truly monumental. Church history, general history, patristics, Medieval developments in theology, contemporary Reformed and Catholic theology were all within his grasp. His colleague in the ministry John Castairs describes this well:
It [Treatise on Scandal] discovers withal so very great insight in church history and writings of the ancient Fathers, wherewith it is everywhere most beautifully illuminated, that it may well be said of him … that one would have thought universam antiquitatem in ejus pectusculo latuisse reconditam, that all antiquity lay in his breast … he was so familiarly acquainted with the Fathers as if he himself had been one of them.
John Carstairs, Introduction to James Durham, The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland or, A treatise Concerning Scandal(Reprint. Dallas: Naphtali Press, 1990, pxxii)
But such gifts did not puff Durham up, he esteemed his brethren as better than himself as may be seen in this anecdote:
Mr Durham not having a popular way of speaking to the common people, he, with some of his Elders, would have seen the people running away from him to hear Mr Gray in the Outter High Church. The Elders seemed to be very displeased, but Mr Durham said, ‘Let them alone, let them go where they think they profit most; for it is probable, if I were in their case, I would do the same thing .’
These are some insights to the more human side of Durham. I hope to pick up on some of his thelolgical insights soon with substantial posts on: “Preaching and the Doctrine of Election,” “On Covenants: Works, Grace and Redemption” & “The Sabbath: Ten Words Have not become Nine”. I have the material ready – I just need the time to arrange it properly.