JAMES DURHAM was born about the year 1622, and was lineally
descended from the ancient and honourable family of Grange Durham, in the
parish of Monifeith, in the shire of Angus.He was the eldest son of John Durham
of Easter Powrie, now called Wedderburn, in Forfarshire, after the
gentlemans name who is the present possessor thereof.
Having gone through all the parts of useful learning with success and applause, he left the university (of St. Andrews) before he was graduated, and for some time lived as a private gentleman at his own dwelling-house in the country without any thought then of further prosecuting his studies, especially for the ministry. And though he was always blameless and moral in his life, both in the university and when he left it, yet he was much a stranger to religion in the serious exercise and power of it, and through prejudice of education did not stand well affected to the Presbyterian Government. He was first married to a daughter of the Laird of Duntarvie, near [South] Queensferry. His wife and her mother were both very pious women.
His conversion to the Lord was very remarkable; for going with his lady to visit her mother [Anna Durham] in the parish of Abercorn, some miles west from Edinburgh, it happened that at this time the sacrament was to be administered in the parish. Upon Saturday his mother-in-law earnestly pressed him to go with them to church and hear sermon. At first he showed much unwillingness; but partly by their persuasion and partly from his complaisant disposition he went along with them. The minister (Ephraim Melville) who preached that day was extremely affectionate and serious in his delivery; and though the sermon was a plain familiar discourse, yet his seriousness fixed Mr Durhams attention very closely, and he was much affected therewith. But the change was reserved till the morrow. When he came home he said to his mother-in- law, The minister hath preached very seriously this day. I shall not need to be pressed to go to church to-morrow. Accordingly, on Sabbath morning, rising early, he went to church, where Mr Melville preached from 1 Pet. ii. 7, Unto you therefore which believe, He is precious, when he so sweetly and seriously opened up the preciousness of Christ, and the Spirit of God wrought so effectually on Mr Durhams spirit, that in hearing of this sermon he first closed with Christ, and then went to the Lords table and took the seal of Gods covenant. After this he ordinarily called Mr Melville father when he spoke of him.
Afterwards he made serious religion his business in secret, in his family, and in all places and companies where he came, and did cordially embrace the interest of Christ and his Church as then established, and gave himself much up to reading for which reason that be might be free of all disturbance, he caused build a study for himself. In this little chamber he gave himself to prayer, reading and meditation, and was so close a student that he often forgot to eat his bread, being sometimes so intent upon his studies that servants who were sent to call him down often returned without an answer; yea, his lady frequently called on him with tears before he would come. Such sweet communion he had sometimes with the Lord in that place.
James Durham made great proficiency in his studies, and not only became an experimental Christian but also a very learned man; one evidence of which he gave in a short dispute with one of the ministers of Dundee, while he was in that town. He met there with the parson of the parish (for so the ministers were then called), who knew him not. After some discourse he fell upon the popish controversy with him, and so put him to silence that he could not answer a word, but went sneakingly out of the room to the provost, craving his assistance to apprehend Durham as a Jesuit, assuring the provost, that if ever there was a Jesuit in Rome he was one; and that if he were suffered to remain in the town or country, he might pervert many from the faith. upon this the provost, going along with him to the house where the pretended Jesuit was, and entering the room, immediately knew Mr Durham, and saluted him as Laird of Easter Powrie, craving his pardon for their mistake; and turning to the parson, asked where the person was whom he called the Jesuit? Mr Durham smiled, and the parson, ashamed, asked pardon of them both; and was rebuked by the provost, who said, Fy, fy! that any country gentleman should be able to put our parson thus to silence.
His call and coming forth to the ministry were somewhat remarkable, for at the time when the civil wars broke out, several gentlemen being in arms for the cause of religion, he was chosen and called to be a captain, in which station he behaved himself like another Cornelius, being a devout man and one that feared God with all his house, and prayed to God always with his company. When the Scots army were about to engage with the English, he judged meet to call his company to prayer before the engagement, and as he began to pray, Mr David Dickson, then professor of divinity at Glasgow, on his way past, seeing the soldiers addressing themselves to prayer, and hearing the voice of one praying, drew near, alighted from his horse, and joined with them. He was so much taken with the prayer that he called for Mr Durham, and having conversed with him a little, he solemnly charged him, that as soon as this piece of service was over, he should devote himself to serve God in the holy ministry, for to that he judged the Lord called him.
But though, as yet, Durham had no clearness to hearken to Mr Dicksons advice, yet two remarkable providences fell out just upon the back of this solemn charge, which served very much to clear the way to comply with his desire. The first was, that in the engagement his horse was shot under him, and he was mercifully preserved; the second, that in the heat of the battle an English soldier was on the point of striking him down with his sword, but apprehending him to be a minister by his grave carriage, black cloth and band (as was then in fashion with gentlemen), he asked him if he was a priest? Durham replied, I am one of Gods priests, and he spared his life. Durham upon reflecting how wonderfully the Lord had thus preserved his life, and that his saying he was a priest had been the means thereofe, resolved, as a testimony of his grateful sense of the Lords goodness to him, henceforth to devote himself to the service of God in the holy ministry, if the Lord should see meet to qualify him for the same. Accordingly, in pursuance of this resolution, he quickly went to Glasgow, and studied divinity under Mr David Dickson, then professor there, and made such proficiency, that in a short time he humbly offered himself for trials in 1646, and was licensed by the Presbytery of Irvine to preach the gospel. Next year, upon Mr.Dickson's recommendation, the session of Glasgow appointed Mr.Ramsay, one of their ministers, to come and preach in Glasgow. Accordingly he came, and preached two Sabbath days and one week day. The session, being fully satisfied with his doctrine, and the gifts bestowed on him by the Lord for serving Him in the holy ministry, did unanimously call him to the ministry of the Blackfriars Church, then vacant, and he was ordained minister there in November 1647.
He applied himself to the work of the ministry with great diligence, so that his profiting did quickly appear to all, but considering that no man that warreth should entangle himself with the affairs of this life, he obtained leave of his people to return to his own country for a little time to settle his worldly affairs Yet even there he was not idle, but preached every Sabbath. First, he preached at Dundee before a great multitude from Rom. i. 16, I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; from which he showed that it was no disparagement for the greatest to be a Gospel minister. The second time be preached at Tealing, in his own country, from 2 Cor. v. 18, And hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; and the third time at Monifeith, at the desire of the minister there, from 2 Cor. v. 20, "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ" In all these places he indeed acted like an ambassador for Christ, and managed the gospel treaty of peace to good purpose. The next Sabbath he designed to have preached at Montrose; but receiving an express to return to Glasgow in haste, his wife being dangerously sick, he came away, leaving his affairs to the care of his friends, and returned to Glasgow, where in a few days his wife, who had been the desire of his eyes, died. His Christian submission under this afflicting dispensation was most remarkable; for after a short silence he said to some about him, Now, who could persuade me that this dispensation of Gods providence was good for me, if the Lord had not said it was so? He was afterwards married to Margaret Muir, relict of Mr Zachariah Boyd, minister of the Barony Church of Glasgow.
In 1650 Mr David Dickson, professor of divinity in. the College of Glasgow, being called to be professor of divinity in the University of Edinburgh, the commissioners of the General Assembly, authorised for visiting the University of Glasgow, unanimously designed and called Mr Durham to succeed Mr Dickson as professor there. But before he was admitted to that charge, the General Assembly, being persuaded of his eminent and steadfastness, prudence and moderation, did, after mature deliberation, that same year, pitch upon him, thought then but tewenty-eight years of age, as among the ablest and best accomplished ministers then in the Church, to attend the kings family as chaplain; in which station, though the times were most difficult, as abounding with snares and temptations, he did so wisely and faithfully acquit himself, that there was a conviction left upon the consciences of all who observed him. Yea, during his stay at court, and whenever he went about the duty of his place, they did all carry gravely, and did forbear all lightness and profanity, none allowing themselves to do anything offensive before him; so that while he served the Lord in the holy ministry, and particularly in that post and character of the kings chaplain, his ambition was to have Gods favour rather than the favour of great men, and he studied more to profit and edify their souls than to tickle their fancies, as some court parasites in their sermons do. One instance whereof was, that being called to preach before the Parliament, where many rulers were present, he preached from John iii. 10: Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? On this occasion he mostly insisted that it was a most unaccountable thing for rulers and nobles in Israel to be ignorant of the great and necessary things of regeneration, and being born again of the Spirit, and did most seriously press all, from the king to the beggar, to seek and know experimentally these thingsa good pattern for all ministers who are called to preach on the like occasion. He continued with King Charles II. till he went to England, and then returned.
Towards the end of January 1651, the common session of Glasgow appointed Patrick Gillespie to write him, concerning Robert Ramsays being professor of divinity in his place in the University of Glasgow. In consequence of this, Durham came to Glasgow; for he is mentioned as present in the session in the beginning of April after. At the same time Cromwell and his army were in Glasgow; and on the Lords Day Cromwell heard a sermon preached by Durham, who testified against his invasion to his face. Next day he sent for Durham, and told him that he always thought that he had been a wiser man than to meddle with matters of public concern in his sermons. To this he answered that it was not his practice, but that he judged it both wisdom and prudence to speak his mind on that head, seeing he had the opportunity to do it in his presence. Cromwell dismissed him very civilly, but desired him to forbear insisting on that subject in public. At the same time sundry ministers, both in town and country, met with Cromwell and his officers and represented in strong terms the injustice of his invasion.
It would appear that James Durham, some time after this, had withdrawn from Glasgow. A letter was therefore in August next ordered to be sent to him, to come and preach; and in September after, there being a vacancy in the Inner High Church by the death of Mr Ramsay, the common session gave him a unanimous call, with which the town council agreed. Some time after this he was received as minister, Mr John Carstairs, his brother~in~law, being his colleague in that church. In the whole of his ministry he was a burning and a shining light, and particularly he shone in humility and self denial. He was also a person of the utmost gravity, and scarcely smiled at anything. Once when Mr William Guthrie, being exceedingly merry, made Mr Durham smile with his pleasant, facetious, and harmless conversation, the latter was at first a little disgusted; but it being the laudable custom of that family to pray after dinner, which Mr Guthrie did, upon being desired, with the greatest measure of seriousness and fervency, to the astonishment of all present, Mr Durham embraced him when they arose from prayer and said "Oh William, you are a happy man - if I had been as merry as you have been, I could not have been in such a serious frame for prayer for the space of forty-eight hours.
He was devout in all parts of his ministerial work, but more eminently so at Communion occasions. Then he endeavoured, through grace, to rouse and work himself up to such a divineness of frame, as very much suited the spiritual nature and majesty of that ordinance. Yea, at some of these solemn and sweet occasions he spoke some way as a man that had been in heaven, commending Jesus Christ, making a glorious display of grace, and bringing the offers thereof so low, that his hearers were made to think that the rope or cord of the salvation offered was let down to sinners, so that those of the lowest stature might catch hold of it. He gave himself much up to meditation, and usually said little to persons that came to propose their cases to him, but heard them patiently, and was sure to handle their cases in his sermons.
His healing disposition and great moderation of spirit remarkably appeared when this Church was grievously divided betwixt the Resolutioners and Protesters; he would never give his judgment on either side, and used to say that division was worse by far than either. He was equally respected by both parties; for at a meeting of the Synod in Glasgow when those of the two different sides met separately, each of them made the choice of Mr.Durham for their moderator; but he refused to join either of them till they would unite; which they accordingly did. At this meeting he gave in some overtures for peace, the substance of which was, that they should eschew all public wakening, or lengthening these debates, by preaching or spreading papers on either side; that they should forbear practising, executing, or pressing of Acts made in the last Assembly at St Andrews and Dundee, and also pressing or spreading appeals, declinatures, or protestations against the same; that no minister, elder, or expectant should be censured, or their ordination to office excepted against on the ground of these things, they being found otherwise qualified; [that some should be named as correspondents to carry these overtures, to be conferred with and recommended to brethren of other synods, who should be written to, to send some of their number to meet at a convenient time and place for that end; and that it was their purpose, if God should give a free General Assembly, to endeavour a full and judicial settling, an oblivion of the foresaid differences and all consequences that have followed on them; and in the meantime to proceed in all affairs according to the uncontroverted rules and Acts of our Church.
So earnest was Mr.durham for peace and agreement between both sides at this time, that he went to St Andrews with Messrs Samuel Rutherford, Robert Trail, John Livingstone, and Patrick Gillespie, who had a conference there with Messrs Robert Blair, David Forret, and James Wood, about their different judgments at that time; and was present with them at their reasonings three days, where the substance of the foresaid overtures was insisted upon. So weighty was the ministerial charge upon his spirit, that Durham said that if he were to live ten years longer, he would choose to live nine years in study for preaching the tenth; and it was thought that his close study and thoughtfulness cast him into that decline whereof he died. [Robert Baillie, in a letter to Mr Spang, minister at Middleburg, without date, but written apparently in june 1658, writes; "Our friends in town are all well. Only good Mr Durham has kept his chamber above these four months, and his bed more than this month, of a lent fever and defluction, that puts his life in great hazard; in the absence of Mr Patrick Gillespie more than a year, and Mr Robert MWard seeking his health at London, a great burden of continual preaching lay on him, and the perfecting of his work on the Revelation for the press was very heavy. It were a great pity of the man; albeit I have my own differences with him, and sharp reckonings sometimes, yet I love him dearly, and count him one of the best and ablest men in Britain.
In the time of his sickness, the better part being afraid that the magistrates, and some of the ministry who were for the public resolutions, would put in one of that stamp after his death, moved Mr. Carstairs, his colleague, to desire him to name his successor. After some demur, enjoining secrecy till it was nearer his death, he at last named Mr David Veitch, then minister of Govan; but afterwards, when dying, to the magistrates, ministers, and some of the people, be named other three, to take any of them they pleased. This alteration made Mr Carstairs inquire the reason after the rest were gone; to whom Durham replied, 0 brother, Mr Veitch is too ripe for heaven to be transported to any church on earth; he will be there almost as soon as I.
And so it proved, for Durham died the Friday after; and next Sabbath Veitch preached; though knowing nothing of this, he told the people in the afternoon that it would be his last sermon to them; and the same night taking bed, he died next Friday morning about three oclock, the time that Durham died, as Dr Rattray, who was witness to both, did declare. [Samuel Rutherford, hearing of the serious illness of his friend Durham, wrote to him a letter of encouragement and comfort, dated St Andrews, 15th June 1658, only ten days before his death. I would ere now have written to you, to quote a sentence or two, - had I not known that your health, weaker and weaker, -could scarce permit you to hear or read. I need not speak much; the way ye know, and have preached to others the skill of the Guide, and the glory of the home beyond death. - . What accession is made to the higher house of His kingdom should not be our loss, though it be real loss to the Church of God; but we count one way and the Lord counteth another way.]
When on his deathbed, Mr Durham was under considerable darkness about his state, and said to Mr John Carstairs, Brother, for all that I have preached or written, there is but one scripture I can remember or dare grip unto; tell me if I dare lay the weight of my salvation upon it: Whosoever cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out? Mr Carstairs answered, You may depend upon it though you had a thousand salvations at hazard. When Durham was drawing towards his departure, though in great conflict and agony, yet he sensibly, through the strength of Gods grace, triumphantly overcame, and cried in a rapture of holy joy some little time before he committed his soul to God, Is not the Lord good? Is He not infinitely good? See how He smiles! I do say it, and I do proclaim it. He died on Friday, the 25th of June 1658, in the thirty-sixth year of his age.
Thus died the eminently pious, learned, and judicious James Durham, whose labours did always aim at the advancement of practical religion, and whose praise in the Gospel is throughout all the churches, both at home and abroad. He was a burning and shing light, a star of the first magnitude, and of him 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. He was also one of great integrity and authority in the country where he lived; insomuch that, when any difference fell out, he was always chosen by both parties as their great referee or judge, unto whose sentence all parties submitted. Such was the quality of his calm and healing spirit.
His colleague, Mr John Carstairs, in the funeral sermon which he preached upon the death of Mr Durham, from Isa. lvii. 1, 2, The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart, gives him this character: Know ye not that there is a prince among pastors fallen today! A faithful and a wise steward, who knew well how to give Gods children their food in due season, a gentle and kind nurse, a faithful admonisher and reprover, a skilful counsellor in all straits and difficulties; in dark matters he was eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, a burning and shining light in the dark world, an interpreter of the Word among a thousand; to him men gave ear, and after his words no man spake again.
His learned and pious works, wherein all the excellence of the primitive and ancient fathers seem to concentrate, are a Commentary on the Revelation; seventy-two sermons on the fifty-third chapter of the Prophecies of Isaiah; an Exposition of the Ten Commandments; an Exposition of the Song of Solomon; his Sermons on Death and on the Unsearchable Riches of Christ; his Communion Sermons; Sermons on Godliness and Self-Denial; Heaven upon Earth in the Serene Tranquillity of a Good Conscience, in several sermons. There are also a great many of his sermons in manuscript, never yet published, viz., three Sermons upon Resisting the Holy Ghost, from Acts vii. 51; eight on Quenching the Spirit; five upon Giving the Spirit; thirteen upon Trusting and Delighting in God; two against Immoderate Anxiety; eight upon the One Thing Needful; with a Discourse upon Prayer; and several other sermons and discourses upon Eph. v. 15; 1 Cor. xi. 24; Luke i. 6; Gal. v. 16; Ps. cxix. 67; 1 Thess. v. 19; 1 Pet. iii. 14; - Matt. viii. 7. There is also a Treatise on Scandal, and an Exposition, by way of Lecture, upon Job, said to be his; but whether these, either as to style or strain cohere with the other works of the laborious author, must be left to the impartial and unbiassed reader.
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