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Significant Scots
John Forbes


FORBES, JOHN, second son of bishop Forbes, was born, May 2nd, 1593, and received the rudiments of his religious and literary education under the care of his father. In 1607, he was sent to King’s college, Aberdeen, where he studied philosophy. Afterwards, he spent some years on the continent, studying theology, first at Heidelberg, under the celebrated Pareus, and subsequently at Sedan, and other celebrated universities in upper and lower Germany. He devoted much of his attention to the writings of the fathers, and made great progress in the study of Hebrew, both of which branches of knowledge, he considered as of the first importance to a theologian. The learning which he thus acquired enabled him, in 1618, to maintain a public dispute against the archbishop and the Lutherans at Upsal. Returning next year to Scotland, he was, at the following synod of the diocese of Aberdeen, called to the profession of the gospel, and, soon after, was elected professor of divinity in King’s college. By the death of his elder brother, in 1625, he became heir apparent of his father as laird of Corse and O’Neil, to which honour he afterwards duly acceded. At the breaking out of the covenanting insurrection in 1638, Forbes published an admonition, in which he pointed out the evils likely to arise from the bond into which the nation was plunging itself, and loudly and earnestly implored that peace might be preserved. It is well known that this advice was not followed, although the people of the northern provinces generally abstained from entering into the covenant. In summer, that year, a deputation of the covenanters, headed by the earl of Montrose, arrived at Aberdeen, for the purpose of arguing the inhabitants into an acceptance of their bond; but owing to the exertions of Forbes, and other preachers and professors, they met with little success. The Aberdeen doctors, as they were called, maintained a disputation against the deputies of the covenant, with such spirit and effect as forms a curious episode in the history of the civil war. They were warmly thanked by the king for their loyalty, and attracted the respectful notice of the church party in England, on account of their pro-episcopal arguments. In a grateful letter addressed to them by the king, from Whitehall, January 31st, 1639, the name of Forbes stands first in the list. But the covenanters were now too warmly engaged in their opposition to the king, to pay much attention to argument. Early in 1639, instead of a deputation to argue, an army came to coerce; so that, finding no longer any safety in Aberdeen, the bishop and two of the doctors took shipping for England, while Forbes retired to his house of Corse. After the pacification of Berwick, he returned to the city, and preached for some time in one of the vacant pulpits. Hostilities, however, were soon after renewed, and as the covenanters were resolved to urge the bond upon every public person, Forbes, as well as others, was summoned before the synod of Aberdeen, to answer for his recusancy. It was in vain that he urged his conscientious objections: the times were not such as to allow of a refined toleration, and he was deposed for contumacy. He appears to have now devoted himself, in the library of King’s college, to the composition of his great work, the "Historico-Theological Institutions," which he was about to finish, when the solemn league and covenant occasioned a fresh application to men of his class, and he was obliged, with great reluctance, to leave his native country, April 5th, 1644. He resided for two years in Holland, and there completed and published his "Institutions," which was by far the most learned and valuable work of the kind that had then been offered to the public. Returning to his native country in 1646, he lived for some time in unmolested retirement at Corse, where he busied himself in making some considerable additions to the work above mentioned, which were not published during the author’s life-time. After a life, which his biographer has called a continual preparation for death, this learned, pious, and virtuous man expired, April 29th, 1648, at the immature age of fifty-five. He had, by his wife, who was a native of Middleburg, two sons, of whom one survived him, and was the heir of his learning and virtue, as well as of his estates. The friends of Dr Forbes desired that he should be buried in the cathedral beside his father; but this was forbidden by the party then in power, and the mourners were obliged to carry his body to an ordinary church-yard, where it lies without any monument. It is painful to add another instance of the narrow spirit to which religious hostility was carried, in an age otherwise characterized by so much zealous piety. While professor, Forbes had purchased a house at Old Aberdeen, where King’s college is situated, and made it over for the use of his successors; but having forgot to secure his life-rent in it, he was afterwards deprived of it by the prevailing party.

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