Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Durham, James
DURHAM, JAMES (1622–1658), covenanting divine, was eldest son of John Durham of Grange Durham Angus, and proprietor of ‘a good estate,’ then called Easter Powrie, in the county of Forfar. He studied at St. Andrews University, and afterwards lived at his country place. Subsequently he took arms in the civil war and became captain of a troop. Naturally serious and thoughtful he had come under profound religious impressions on a visit to the relations of his wife (Anna, daughter of Francis Durham of Duntarvie) at Abercorn, near Edinburgh, and it was his being overheard praying with his soldiers by David Dickson, an eminent presbyterian divine, that led to his devoting himself to the ministry. After studying at Glasgow he was licensed as a preacher in 1647. That a man of his position should make such a change excited some comment among his old friends and neighbours, but his whole soul was in his new occupation, and he vindicated himself with great fervour. For a time he exercised his ministry in Glasgow, and in 1650 he was appointed professor of divinity in the university there. But before he could be settled in that office the general assembly decided that he should attend as chaplain on the king. The duties of this office he discharged ‘with such majesty and awe’ as to inspire the court with much reverence for him. When free from this situation he was again called to the ministry in Glasgow, and inducted into the ‘Inner Kirk.’ His health had never been strong, and he was prematurely old, partly the effect of the singularly laborious life of study which he led. He died on 25 June 1658, in the thirty-sixth year of his age. His first wife, Anna, died about 1648. He afterwards married, 14 Dec. 1653, Margaret Mure, widow of Zachary Boyd [q. v.] She died about 1692.
Durham was a man of intense strength of conviction and great gravity of character. It is said of him, as of Robert Leighton, to whom in certain respects he bore a resemblance, that he was seldom known to smile. His studies, both in scripture and in the theological and ecclesiastical questions of the day, were carried on with extraordinary diligence. Of his devotion to the christian ministry he gave decided proof, both by his laboriousness in the work and by his retiring from the position and enjoyments of a country gentleman's life. Of his power and faithfulness as a preacher a remarkable illustration is said to have occurred at the time of Cromwell's invasion of Scotland. It is said that Cromwell entered his church incognito, and got a seat as it happened in the pew of the provost's daughter, who, as he wore the dress of an English officer, was by no means very courteous to him. At the close of the service Cromwell asked her the preacher's name. She gave a curt reply and asked why he wished to know. Cromwell replied ‘because he perceived him to be a very great man, and in his opinion might be chaplain to any prince in Europe, though he had never seen him nor heard of him before.’ It is certain that Durham preached before Cromwell against the English invasion. One version of the story has it that Cromwell asked him whether it was his habit to preach on politics, and that he replied that it was not, but seeing him present he thought it right to let him know his mind. Durham was held by his contemporaries in the very highest esteem as one of the most able and godly men of the time. For one so young he was a voluminous writer. His works, which were chiefly posthumous, are as follows: 1. ‘Heaven upon Earth; twenty-two sermons,’ 1657. 2. ‘A Commentary on the Book of Revelation,’ 1658. 3. ‘The Dying Man's Testament to the Church of Scotland, or a Treatise concerning Scandal,’ 1659. 4. ‘An Exposition of the Book of Job,’ 1659. 5. ‘Clavis Cantici, or an Exposition of the Song of Solomon,’ 1668. 6. ‘The Law Unsealed, or a Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments,’ 1676. 7. ‘The Blessedness of the Dead that Die in the Lord,’ seven sermons, 1682. 8. ‘Christ Crucified,’ an exposition of Isaiah liii., 1683. 9. ‘The Unsearchable Riches of Christ,’ communion sermons, 1684. 10. ‘Sermons on Godliness and SelfDenial,’ 1685. 11. ‘The great Corruption of Subtile Self,’ seven sermons, 1686. There has also been published ‘Dickson and Durham against Independency, or some quotations out of Mr. D. Dickson's Treatise on the Confession of Faith, and out of Durham on the Revelation.’[A Collection of some Memorable Things in the Life of that truly great and eminent Man, Mr. James Durham, prefixed to the Treatise on Scandal; Wodrow's Analecta; Baillie's Letters and Journals; Scott's Fasti, pt. iii. 5, 17, 32; Chambers's Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen; M'Crie's Story of the Scottish Church.]