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John Forbes (1568–1634)

Scottish minister and exile to the Netherlands for holding to purity in worship.
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“There is nothing in this world which Satan more opposes, nor that men set themselves against, neither anything so contrary to flesh and blood, as the truth of God’s worship, and the sincerity of preaching the truth of God.” – John Forbes

His Works:

  1. ‘The Saint’s Hope, and infallibleness thereof,’ Middelburg, 1608.
  2. Two sermons, Middelburg, 1608.
  3. ‘A Treatise tending to the clearing of Justification,’ Middelburg, 1616.
  4. ‘A Treatise how God’s Spirit may be discerned from Man’s own Spirit,’ London, 1617.
  5. Four sermons on Offending God in Worship on 1 Tim. 6:13-16, 1635.
  6. A sermon on 2 Tim. ii. 4, Delft, 1642.
  7. ‘Certain Records touching the Estate of the Kirk in 1605 and 1606,’ Edinb. Wodrow Soc. 1846.


Biography of John Forbes:

John Forbes (1568–1634) was a Scottish Presbyterian divine, minister of Alford, Aberdeenshire. His father, William Forbes, an early adherent of the Reformation, married Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Strachan of Thornton. Of their sons, Patrick, the eldest became bishop of Aberdeen, William, the second, founded the family of Craigievar, and Arthur, the fourth, that of the Earls of Granard in Ireland. John was born about 1568, educated at the university of St. Andrews, where he earned the degree of M.A. in 1583, and was ordained as a minister of the Gospel in Alford in 1593. He soon rose to distinction in the church, and when the proceedings of the synods of Aberdeen and Moray against the Marquis of Huntly–the pillar of Romanism in the north–were interfered with by the privy council, he was sent by them to London to seek compensation from the king. In their letter to James they state that Forbes had been specially chosen because of, “his fidelity and uprightness, and his sincere affection borne to the kingdom of God, his majesty’s service and peace of the land.” He went to court in March of 1605, was graciously received by the king, and succeeded in the object of his mission. On the following July he was appointed moderator of the Aberdeen assembly, which was held contrary to the king’s orders; and when he and others were summoned before the council to answer for their disobedience, they declined its jurisdiction. They believed the matter was spiritual, and offered to submit their conduct to the judgment of the church. For this Forbes and five others were imprisoned in Blackness, tried for high treason, found guilty by a packed jury, and banished from the king’s dominions for life. After giving a hearty farewell to their friends, the exiles sailed from Leith for Bordeaux, France on November 7, 1606. On reaching France Forbes visited Boyd of Trochrig at Saumur, and then went to Sedan. For some years he appears to have traveled greatly, visiting the Reformed churches and universities, in which many of his countrymen then held professorships.

In 1611 he was settled as pastor of a British congregation at Middelburg, and in the following year he and his brother Arthur, then an officer in the Swedish service, spent several weeks at Sedan with their kinsman, Andrew Melville. Soon after this he was offered a release from banishment, but there were conditions which he could not accept. In 1616 he was in London for several months, and saw the king, who promised to revoke his sentence of exile, but the promise was never fulfilled. After a ministry of ten years at Middelburg, where he was greatly respected, he became pastor of the British church at Delft in the Netherlands. In 1628 Charles I, influenced by Bishop Laud, began to interfere with the worship and discipline of the English and Scottish churches in the Netherlands, and Forbes was ultimately removed from his ministerial position. He died in 1634, aged about sixty-six because of kidney failure. He was held in honor by the Reformed churches abroad for his character, talents, and learning, and was revered by many of his own countrymen as one who had suffered for righteousness’ sake.

He married a Christian, the daughter of Barclay of Mathers. Two of his sons were colonels in the Dutch military, one of whom afterwards fought on the side of the covenanters, a third, Patrick (1611-1680), became bishop of Caithness, and a fourth became minister of Abercorn. His three daughters married in Scotland.


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