Forbes, Patrick (1564-1635) (DNB00)

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FORBES, PATRICK (1564–1635), of Corse, bishop of Aberdeen, eldest son of William Forbes of Corse and Elizabeth Strachan, was born in 1564. After attending the high school of Stirling he studied at the universities of Glasgow and St. Andrews, under his kinsman Andrew Melville. He accompanied Melville in his flight to England in 1584, and visited Oxford and Cambridge. Returning to St. Andrews he prosecuted his theological studies, and was offered a divinity chair, but this he declined in deference to his father's wishes. In 1589 he married Lucretia, daughter of David Spens of Wormiston in Fifeshire. James Melville tells us that he brought about this marriage of ‘good, godly, and kind Patrick Forbes of Corse.’ Forbes had lived in close intimacy with both the Melvilles from his boyhood. After his marriage he went to Montrose, and resided there till his father's death in 1598, when he removed to Corse. Besides attending to his estates, he continued his theological studies, and diligently expounded the scriptures to his own family and dependents. The bishop and clergy earnestly solicited him to enter the ministry, and, failing in this, besought him to transfer his Sunday expositions to his parish church, which was then vacant. His compliance with this request brought down an order from the king and Archbishop Gladstanes that he should discontinue his public ministrations till he received ordination. He at once submitted, and restricted himself as before to the religious instruction of his own household. In 1611 the minister of Keith in a fit of melancholy committed suicide, but had time before he died to entreat Forbes, by whom he had been comforted, to become his successor. Forbes, regarding the call as providential, gave his consent to the entreaties of the community, and was ordained and admitted to the pastoral charge of Keith in 1612. The moderate episcopacy, which had received the sanction of the assembly in 1610, had been opposed by the party to which he belonged, but its introduction caused no schism in the church. In the year of his ordination Forbes published a ‘Commentary on the Apocalypse,’ being the substance of lectures on that book which he had delivered at Corse. A second edition was printed at Middelburg in 1614 with an appendix defending the lawful calling of the ministers of the reformed church against the Romanists, and in which the doctrine of apostolical succession is maintained from a point of view then common to presbyterians and episcopalians. This work was highly approved by Andrew Melville, who urged Forbes's son John to translate it into Latin. When the see of Aberdeen fell vacant in 1615 Forbes was thought the ‘fittest of all men for the place,’ and professors and clergy petitioned for his appointment, but another was preferred. He preached the opening sermon at the general assembly of 1616, took a prominent part in its proceedings, and, with other eminent ministers, was commissioned to revise the confession of faith, liturgy, and rules of discipline. The see of Aberdeen was again vacant in 1618, and Forbes was nominated by the king from regard to his qualifications and the wishes of the clergy of the diocese, who, together with all the leading churchmen of the country, pressed him to accept the office. He was greatly distressed and perplexed, not from any objections to episcopacy, but because of the troubles caused by the innovations which the king was then forcing on the church. He at length yielded and was consecrated on 17 May 1618. The assembly which met at Perth in August of that year was ordered by the king to give its sanction to five articles enjoining kneeling at the communion, the observance of festivals, confirmation, and the private administration of the sacraments in cases of sickness. Forbes wished the church had not been troubled with these innovations, but as he esteemed them indifferent he went with the majority in giving effect to the king's wishes. In the discharge of the duties of the episcopal office he more than justified the great expectations that had been formed of him. In his own diocese he was regarded with universal respect and affection, and no Scottish bishop stood higher in general estimation. He spent the summer in visiting the parishes under his care. He travelled without parade and sometimes paid visits of surprise, when, after being present at divine service without previous intimation, he privately commended the pastor or corrected what he saw amiss. He disjoined parishes which had been united through the covetousness of the titheholders, and increased the number of clergy. Reverenced by all classes, he was frequently made the arbiter of their disputes, and did much to put down the feuds then so prevalent. The two colleges of Aberdeen were raised by him to a condition of great prosperity, and by his encouragement of piety and learning he gathered around him a body of clergy who were ornaments to their church and country. As a member of the privy council his opinions were regarded with the greatest deference by his colleagues. He strenuously opposed Charles I's plans for conforming the church to the English pattern, but in 1632 he had a shock of paralysis, which incapacitated him for taking much part in public affairs. He still attended synods and church, to which he had to be carried, and sometimes preached as it had been his constant practice to do when in health. He gave his pastoral counsels from his bed to crowds of clergy and laity who came to visit him. He died on 28 March 1635, and was buried with every mark of sorrow and respect in the south transept of his cathedral. Soon after his death a memorial volume was published entitled ‘Funerals,’ &c., which contains the highest tributes to his worth by the Aberdeen doctors and by many of the most eminent men in the kingdom. Archbishop Spottiswoode likens him to Bishop Elphinstone, the greatest of his predecessors, and says of him: ‘So wise, judicious, so grave and graceful a pastor I have not known in all my time in any church.’ Bishop Burnet says: ‘He was a gentleman of quality and estate, but much more eminent by his learning and piety than his birth or fortune could make him. He was in all things an apostolical man’ (Pref. to Life of Bedell).

A Latin translation of his ‘Commentary on the Apocalypse,’ with appendices, was published at Amsterdam by his son in 1646. In 1629 the bishop published a small work entitled ‘Eubulus,’ &c., which, like his other writings, is directed against Romanism. There is a fine portrait of him in the hall of the university at Aberdeen, and an engraving in the first edition of the ‘Funerals.’ His pulpit in the college chapel and his tomb both bear the shield of the Corse family surmounted by a star instead of a mitre, and a motto from the Apocalypse, ‘Salvation to our God and to the Lamb.’

Besides his son John (1593–1648) [q. v.], he had two sons and two daughters.

[Life in Wodrow MSS. (Glasg. Univ.); Life of Dr. John Forbes of Corse, prefixed to Garden's edition of his Works; Bishop Forbes's Funerals, with Memoir (Spottiswoode Soc.), Edinb. 1845.]

G. W. S.