The following book is reviewed by Dr. Marco Barone, member of Southwest PRC in Wyoming, Michigan and book coordinator at the Reformed Free Publishing Association.
James Durham, A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments, ed. Chris Coldwell. Dallas, TX- Grand Rapids, MI. Naphtali Press and Reformation Heritage Books, 2018. Hardcover. $40.00. 432 pages.
The idea that Reformed preaching should “focus on what God does in our lives rather than emphasizing how we should live” is popular in many Reformed corners. However, that a life of thankful obedience can take place only on the basis and by virtue of Christ’s redemption does not warrant this false dichotomy between redemption and gratitude. In fact, both the Bible and the creeds emphasize both our redemption and our holy walk in gratitude, without contradiction. In the Old Testament, God’s call to His covenant people to be holy as He is holy is loud, mighty, and present everywhere. Every book of the New Testament emphasizes both redemption and gratitude. Finally, the third part of the Heidelberg Catechism is entirely dedicated to our gratitude.
James Durham (1622-1658) disagrees with said false dichotomy, as is testified by this 348-page exposition of the ten commandments. Durham was a great seventeenth-century Scottish divine and minister. After his conversion, he dedicated himself to the study of theology and to the ministry with inflexible assiduity, leading biographers to believe that those efforts contributed to his early death. A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments is one of the fruits of his labors.
Durham discusses the ten commandments in ten chapters, one commandment in each chapter. The author expounds on the meaning, the reasons, and the practical applications of each commandment. The book, however, is not limited to exterior Christian behavior. In fact, Durham understands the spirituality of the law and, therefore, he places his exposition on the commandments in its proper context, that is, in a biblical doctrine of sin, of the nature of God, of salvation, and of Christ. More importantly, Durham clarifies in several places the main goal of his work on the law, that is, not only to expose our misery but also to lead us to Christ, the only place to find pardon and grace for renewed power unto holiness.
The scope of all is to discover your superficialness and overliness [carelessness] in examining yourselves, to put you to be more serious in that necessary and useful exercise and to teach you by what command you should most examine yourselves, even by this tenth command, as being that which will make the clearest and most throughly searching discovery of yourselves to yourselves, and will best rid marches [mark the boarders] between you and hypocrites; to put you in thankfulness to acknowledge, and with admiration to adore the exceeding great goodness of God, in providing and giving a Mediator on whom He hath laid all these innumerable iniquities of all His people, which would have sunk them eternally under the unsupportable weight of them; to let you see how absolutely necessary, how unspeakably useful, and steadable He is to so many ways, and so deeply guilty sinners; and withal to lead you to improve and make use of Him for doing them away, both as to the guilt and filth of them— which when God shall, for Christ’s sake, be graciously pleased to do, will not every believing soul have reason to say and sing to the commendation of His grace: Who is a God like unto thee that pardoneth iniquity? Micah 7:18. Bless the Lord, O my soul, who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases. Psalm 103:3. To him that loved us, and washed us from our sin in his own blood, be glory and dominion for ever. Amen. Revelation 1:5-6. (348)
Durham’s English is seventeenth-century English, which slows down the reading for a contemporary reader. Not all readers will agree with every point and conclusion set forth in this treatise. Nevertheless, this book is a remarkable piece from the Protestant orthodoxy of the past. Relatedly, Durham’s book can be considered not only an exposition of the ten commandments, but also a work of Christian ethics from the Puritan era, a fascinating window into the seventeenth-century Reformed view of Christian life and morality.
The title is a good library addition for all those who love church history and exegesis, or simply for those who would like a challenging but spiritually rewarding reading of a significant book from the church of the past.