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Christ Crucified by James Durham

Book review
Christ Crucified by James Durham

Inside the cover of his personal copy of Christ Crucified, 19th century preacher C.H. Spurgeon wrote two words: “Much prized.”

Without question, author James Durham (1622-1658) left the Church with a precious treatise on the Cross of Christ. But, sadly, this “much prized” Puritan work never found itself printed in the 19th century, and the last printed edition appeared in 1792! The work may be prized for its content, but we lament that it’s so far outside the reach of contemporary readers.

This absence temporarily ended in 2001 when Chris Coldwell and publisher Naphtali Press (Dallas, TX) released a retypset, edited, and beautiful edition of Durham’s classic. But the 500 copies – even selling at $75 each to cover high expenses of a short print run – sold out by the Fall of 2003. The classic, while back for a flash, returned quickly to the status of “rare” and again outside the reach of most readers.

Just in the past few weeks (August of 2007), Naphtali finished their second (and much larger) printing. The 2001 Naphtali edition is back, fully stocked, and now available for $30!

So why is Durham’s classic so treasured?

“Much Prized”

Admittedly, Durham is a lesser-known of the Puritan divines and probably because the Scottish preacher died in 1658 at the age of 36. His productive ministry lasted a mere decade and the 11 books that bear his name were all printed posthumously. The 72 sermons in Christ Crucified were transcribed by Durham’s ministry partner John Carstairs. Carstairs edited and first published the sermons 25 years after Durham’s death. The full title is Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53 and was originally published in Edinburgh in 1683.

Christ Crucified is traditionally classified and used as a commentary on Isaiah 53:1-12. And it certainly contains an encyclopedia of biblical exegesis and deep doctrine you would expect from a Puritan commentary. But Durham’s sermons go further, being filled with rich application, exhortation, encouragement and fuel for the Cross-centered life. It’s a Puritan work that, when carefully digested, molds Gospel-centered preachers like Spurgeon.

In these 72 sermons, Durham patiently and carefully walks verse-by-verse through the great OT prophecy of Christ. His aim is not merely exegesis or theology, but rich application. He wants us to experience the Cross, and he moves the reader frequently from doctrine to application.

For example, in sermon 22 Durham traverses the mystery of Christ’s substitution, of His absorbing the wrath of God and being “wounded for our transgressions” (v. 5). The sermon ends with a plea for us to feel our dire condition as sinners. Our sin deserves the wounding of judgment. The suffering of Christ should lead us to despair in our empty self-righteousness. The sermon concludes with these words:

“O let these things sink in your hearts, that you are sinners, great sinners, under wrath, and at feud with God; that Jesus Christ is the savior of lost sinners, and that there is no way to pardon and peace, but by closing with him, and laying hold on his satisfaction, that you may be drawn to cast yourselves over on this everlasting covenant, for obtaining the benefits that Christ has purchased” (p. 252).

From beginning to end, Durham’s work is rich and applicable but the book is perhaps best remembered for the final six sermons on Isaiah 53:12, covering the intercessory work of Christ. Here Durham is at his best, reminding us our salvation, sanctification, and all other spiritual victories are a direct result of the Melchizedek-like eternal priesthood of Christ.

Christ intercedes for the elect, that they be justified, pardoned, and receive “favor, friendship, and fellowship” with God and kept from temptation. He intercedes so our service will being acceptable before God, our prayers be heard, that we be armed against the fear of death, always advancing in sanctification towards our ultimate salvation and glorification. “In a word, he intercedes for everything needful, and for everything promised to them, his intercession being as broad as his purchase” (p. 626).

Durham contends that we fail to comprehend the far-reaching influence of Christ’s intercession. He seeks to comfort his readers by opening our mind beyond Calvary and into the eternal holy of holies where Christ is now interceding for the saints.

Throughout the volume Durham presses his readers into Scripture, presses them into the Cross, and then applies the Cross for their salvation, sanctification, joy and comfort.

The enduring value of Christ Crucified is quite evident.

Naphtali edition

The Naphtali edition is more than 700-pages long and noticeably tall and wide. You can see how it stands alongside Meet the Puritans.

The retypeset text is clean and easy to read. Archaic words are underlined with a brief definition in brackets. The text includes sidebar headings for each subheading, and these headings are all listed in the extensive table of contents (download a PDF copy of the full table of contents here). The outside columns provide great room for notes.

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Publishers of Puritan works should take careful note of Chris Coldwell’s work. Here is a retypeset Puritan classic, with the following admirable features:

  • Uses original sources for careful edits and corrections.
  • Notes variants and archaic words in the footnotes with a glossary in the back.
  • Provides an excellent introduction and author biography.
  • Supplies extensive table of contents in the front.
  • Adds a Scriptural index and topical index in the back.
  • Brought together with durable Smyth-sewn binding and housed in a cloth cover.

It’s doubtful the Naphtali edition could be improved.

Recommendations

I first learned of Durham four years ago when reading Spurgeon. In an early sermon Spurgeon said, “If I had lived in his [Durham’s] time, I should never, I think, have wanted to hear any other preacher; I would have sat, both by night and day, to receive the sweet droppings of his honeyed lips” (sermon 172). Obviously, Durham played a significant role in Spurgeon’s early ministry development.

As I mentioned earlier, in his personal copy of Christ Crucified, Spurgeon simply wrote “Much prized” (Autobiography, vol. 4). In Commenting and Commentaries – a book where Spurgeon freely assaults poor commentaries and their authors – he writes Christ Crucified is “marrow indeed” and “We need say no more: Durham is a prince among spiritual expositors.”

From contemporary reviewers Joel Beeke and Randall Peterson in Meet the Puritans (RHB: 2006) Christ Crucified is said to be “an excellent book for believers who yearn for a more intimate fellowship with Christ in His sufferings” (p. 678). Later they make the amazing claim that Christ Crucified is “one of the best commentaries ever written on Christ’s person and work in redemption” (p. 679). On this Naphtali edition they write, “The present reprint is carefully and beautifully done” (p. 678).

We agree with all of the above.

Take the advice of Beeke and Spurgeon. Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53 is a classic Puritan work that has been beautifully reproduced. Your soul will be drawn to fellowship with Christ and stirred to deeper discoveries of the Cross. Since 1792, Durham’s classic has never been more available and never more affordable.

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Title: Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53
Author: James Durham (1622-1658)
Editor: Chris Coldwell
Reading level: 3.0/5.0 > Easier thanks to excellent editing and glossary
Boards: cloth spine, embossed
Pages: 704
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: Smyth-sewn
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: yes
Text: perfect type, re-typeset
Publisher: Naphtali Press
Year: 2001 ed., 2007 printing
Price USD: $45 retail; $30 pub.; $29 RHB
ISBN: 094107546x

         
 
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