James Durham on Ministerial Qualifications (1)

An examination of Durham’s essay, "Concerning Ministerial Qualifications"

“A sincere honest minster may have very mean gifts, either considered in themselves, or as being compared with others; and yet may be more faithful in improving of them, be more accepted of Jesus Christ with his small measure, and have more fruits and greater success, that others of more shining gifts without tenderness in their walk.” The least in giftedness may indeed be the greatest in usefulness (2 Cor. 4:7)


The great Scottish theologian and preacher James Durham (1622-1658) published a monumental Commentarie Upon the Book of Revelation in 1658 extending over 1000 pages. John MacLeod stated that Durham’s work “gives what, in past days, was the accepted Protestant view of that book.” (MacLeod, Some Favourite Books, Banner of Truth, 1998; pp. 29-30) Whilst Durham’s understanding of Revelation might not find many followers today, interspersed in the commentary are various theological essays (25 in all) which are of inestimable value.

I’d like to examine Durham’s essay entitled, “Concerning Ministerial Qualifications” (pp. 170-180), in two posts: first, with this introductory post and second, outlining Durham’s understanding of three key qualifications for the ministry: gifts, learning, and grace.

Of Angels and Men

Durham’s launching point for his consideration of ministerial qualifications are the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. In particular he takes his cue from the “angels” the letters are addressed to. But who or what are these angels? Well, for Durham they are gospel ministers. Turning to Malachi 2:7 he points out that priests were called “the messenger of the Lord of Hosts” and that “the original” could also be translated “the angel of the Lord of Hosts.” And so, just as priests were once called angels, now ministers, the “messengers” of the risen Christ are appropriately called angels. (pp. 42-43) (For those more controversially minded Durham also discusses why the designation of “the angel” of a particular church does not lead to a church structure with a Lord Bishop!)

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