Who is James Durham?

In order to explain who James Durham is I have posted below the first half of an article I did on James Durham for the Free Church Witness a couple of years ago.  For more recent copies of The Witness see:


James Durham is a name that should be more well known than it is. Amongst the many great gifts (Eph 4:8) that our ascended Lord has given to the Church militant, few have been greater than James Durham. In the age of the great Puritans and of the heroic deeds of the Second Reformation in Scotland James Durham still ranked as “an interpreter, one among a thousand,” (Job 33:23). In this article I hope to give a brief sketch of Durham’s life and then concentrate on his view of gospel preaching [I have not included this second part – DJM].


James Durham’s Life and Conversion


James Durham was born in 1622 in Monufeith, Angus. He grew up a stranger to experimental religion. However, he married a godly wife. While he was visiting his wife’s family he was constrained upon to go to Church. The sermon had an effect on Durham and he remarked afterwards, “Your minister preached very seriously, and I shall not need to be pressed to go to hear tomorrow.” Durham duly went and the next day the minister, Mr Ephraim Melvin, preached on 1 Peter 2:7, “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious.” It is said that the minister “opened up the preciousness of Christ with such unction and seriousness, that it proved, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the means of his conversion.”


Upon his conversion James Durham acted as one to whom Christ had become “all, and in all” (Col 3:11). He gave himself wholeheartedly to the scriptures, prayer and spiritual books. He so wished to be free from disturbance in his meditations that he built himself a study! Through this he became a deeply exercised Christian and a learned theologian. Durham was also a man of deep piety, and this was noticed by his neighbours. If any quarrels or differences broke out among them Durham was invariably chosen by both parties as the arbiter and judge to whose verdict all parties submitted (see Job 29:7,21-22).


Durham was a captain in the army but it was not long before he was called to the ministry. While Durham was praying with his troops before a battle David Dickson, Professor of Divinity in Glasgow University, happened to overhear him. Dickson was so impressed with Durham’s prayer that he pressed Durham to devote himself to the ministry. Durham did not immediately agree but his providential preservation in battle convinced him it was his duty to hearken to Dickson’s advice.


After the due course of study James Durham was ordained to the gospel ministry in Glasgow in December 1647. Shortly after this he returned to his parents’ home to settle his worldly affairs (2 Tim 2:4). Whilst away he heard that his wife was sick and she died shortly after his speedy return to Glasgow. Durham lost the one who was “the desire and delight of his eyes” but he demonstrated much Christian spirit in his distress saying, “who could persuade me that this dispensation of God’s providence were good for me, if not the Lord had said it was so?” Durham married again some six years later.


After this initial pastorate Durham was successively called to be Professor of Divinity in Glasgow University, Chaplin to the King’s family, and again a Pastor in Glasgow. Durham died in 1658 at the young age of 36. He died clinging to the words, “Whosoever cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” (John 6:37). Samuel Rutherford said of his death that it was a “real loss to the church of God”.


The Righteous shall be in Everlasting Remembrance


James Durham has been universally esteemed. James Walker says of him, “no Scotchman of that age was more profoundly venerated.” William Blaikie says, “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: “From the day I [joined in ordaining him] … I did live to the very last with him in great and uninterrupted love, and in an high estimation of his egregious [remarkable] enduements [accomplishments], which made him to me precious among the most excellent Divines I have been acquainted with in the whole Isle. O if it were the good pleasure of the Master of the Vineyard to plant many such noble Vines in this Land!”


Similarly, Principal John MacLeod remarks, “among the mighties of his day… [Durham] was among the mightiest of them all.” Rabbi Duncan said reading Durham’s sermons on Isaiah 53 was akin to “eating the flesh and drinking the blood” of Christ. John Howie says Durham “was a burning and a shining light, a star of the first magnitude, and of whom it may be said (without derogating from the merit of any), that he attained unto the first three and had a name among the mighty.” Such testimonies may be further multiplied.


Particular esteem has been expressed regarding Durham’s gospel preaching. His colleague in his last Pastoral charge, Rev. John Carstairs, said of Durham’s preaching, “In a manner his face shone, as being in the mount of communion and fellowship with God … he spoke some way as a man who had been in heaven, commending Jesus Christ, making a glorious display of the banner of free grace, holding forth the riches of it very clearly and convincingly. He brought the offers thereof very low, wonderfully low … He so vehemently and urgently pressed home on so sweet and easy terms to be embraced that I have been sometimes made to wonder how the hearers could refuse.”

6 Responses to “Who is James Durham?”

  1. Gerald Chrisco Says:

    I am a 52 year old candidate for my MAR in Religion from RTS and have begun the process of thesis topic selection. (I am half way through my final course.) I think I want to focus on the part of the Marrow controversy that dealt with assurance of our salvation and compare it to the comparable portion of the Westminster Confession. I would appreciate any resources you are willing to share: bibliographies, drafts of your work, etc. (to the extent you feel appropriate).

    Thank you and God bless.

  2. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Gerald

    That is an intersting and important topic and well worthy of study. The best resource for the Marrow Controversy in general is:

    Lachman, D.C. The Marrow Controversy 1718-1723. Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 1988

    There is the odd thing in there I disagree with historically but as a whole it is very highly recommended. A lot of literature is included in his bibliography.

    Other academic works of interest include:

    Su, Yohan The Contribution of Scottish Covenant Theology to the Discussions of the Westminster Assembly (1643-1648) and its Continuing Significance to the Marrow Controversy (1717-1723). PhD, University of Glamorgan, 1993

    Downie, N.F.W. The doctrine of assurance in Scottish theology from the Westminster Assembly of 1643 to the Secession of 1733. M.A. Manchester, 1986 – This work would be a springboard/contrast for your thesis as from memory she takes the Torrance view of Scottish Church history.

    Bob Letham’s PhD Saving Faith and Assurance, Aberdeen, 1979 should provide backgorund information as well. Joel Beeke’s published work “The Quest for Full Assurance: Legacy of Calvin & His Successors” is also highly relevant and has a full bibliography.

    In terms of Marrow Men themselves obviously the Works of Boston and the Erskine borothers are foundational. John Brown’s complied work Gospel Truth Accurately Stated and Illustrated (Canonsubrgh: Andrew Munro, 1827) is also important.

    There is a helpful introductory essay online here:


    If you have any more questions feel free to ask.

    Every blessing
    Donald John

  3. Gerald Chrisco Says:


    Thank you. The Princeton review article was right on target.

  4. Gerald Chrisco Says:


    I have read the Lachman book. It was a great resource.

    Which historical facts did you question?

    thanks, Gerald

  5. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi Gerald

    Before I voice any criticisms it needs to be said that Lachman’s work is outstanding and a model of detailed and sensitive historical theology.

    My concerns are minor and relate largely to my own area of study the free offer of the gospel. For instance Lachman states:

    …the Synod of Dort… taught a full and free gospel offer to all men. As we shall see, earlier Reformed divines held this gospel offer to be a particular offer of Christ to each individual. The offer could therefore be apprehended with an assurance that Christ would be gracious. Later theologians, extending the doctrine of particular redemption to the gospel offer, spoke of the offer as general and indefinite. The purpose of the offer was that the elect might believe; as none others could be assured of God’s good will towards them and as none could know he was of the elect, therefore none could know he was included in the offer and none could come with assurance that God would be gracious to him.

    But I dont see this myself, certainly as a generalisation, as later theologians e.g. Durham also firmly held the offer was a particular invitation to each hearer. His discussion of Durham’s views is limited and therefore does not provide a fully rounded picture of his views, p33, 35 etc. (This is of course a necessary function of the nature of his book and not a criticism.)

    He also argues Dort placed greater emphasis on the free offer than the Westminster Assembly, which I don’t think is the case p36. He states there was considerable disagreement among the reformed over the extent of the gospel offer and I dont think this was the case either although he correctly outlines there was disagreement over the grounds of the offer p36.

    Hope that was of some help. Like I say overall the book is excellent.

    Every blessing
    Donald John

  6. judi brown Says:

    i have just found this site and i am doing research on my relatives of that era and it is absolutely fantastic to find so much information on James ,it seems that he was held in very high esteem and that is very nice to know and interesting as well.
    As i have researched other members of this family it seems that they were all very strong in their faith and many made it their lifes passion and have left things like this for people to follow, it seems that this family member was quite a man of his time.
    If there is anymore information on James i would definitely love to hear about it if anyone has anything involving James in any capacity at all i would dearly love to know.
    judi brown
    new zealand

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