Saturday, March 27, 2010

John Forbes of Alford and Spiritual Experience

John Forbes of Alford (c.1565–1634) was the cousin of Andrew Meville. Forbes is not to be confused with his nephew, the Aberdeen Doctor John Forbes, of Corse (1593–1648). Forbes of Corse was very learned and indeed was taught by his uncle. He was also a very pious man who kept a diary of his ‘fearful wrestlings and comfortable victories through Christ’ and records a number of personal covenants with God: ‘the Covenant serveth to waken me to the careful avoiding of sin’. Strangely, however, he could not consent to the social and national covenanting of Scotland in 1638.

Forbes of Alford is an interesting individual not so well known as he ought to be. In 1593 he was ordained minister of Alford, Aberdeenshire. He was a stalwart defender of the spiritual liberties and independence of the Church. This was first evident when the privy council interfered with the proceedings of the synods of Aberdeen and Moray against the Catholic marquess of Huntly. The synods sent Forbes to London in March 1605 to seek redress from King James VI and I. The Synods commended ‘his fidelity and uprightness, and his sincere affection borne to the kingdom of God, his majesty's service and peace of the land’. Forbes ultimately succeeded in this difficult trip.

In July of the same year (1605) Forbes was elected moderator of the Aberdeen assembly. This assembly was held in defiance of the king's command, however. Along with others he was summoned before the privy council to answer. The ministers declined the jurisdiction of the council to deal with spiritual matters which were only to be judged by church courts of the kirk. They were imprisoned in Blackness Castle, tried for high treason and banished from the king's dominions for life. They sailed from Leith for Bordeaux on 7 November 1606.

After visiting Scots exiles in France, he was settled as pastor of a British congregation at Middelburg in 1612 after an interim period from 1610. He remained here for ten years. He was offered a return to Britain but on terms which would compromise his convictions and in 1616 the king who promised to revoke his sentence of exile, but this was not fulfilled. He is said to have been influential in organising the non-conforming British exiles and also upon the Dutch States-General. He greatly detested the set forms of the Prayer Book. He became pastor of the British church at Delft in 1621 where he preached to the Merchant Adventurers. In the same year he organised a classis or presbytery of the English speaking congregations in the Netherlands. Through the influence of Thomas Hooker, however, he seemed to be brought to lean to some Independent ideas. By 1634 he was removed by the influence of Charles I and Laud after a lengthy struggle. In August 1634 he died at Veere from 'a fit of the stone' which brought on a burning fever. He was aged about sixty-nine and was buried in the Netherlands.

In one of his last sermons at Delft Alford preached on 1 Tim 6:15 stating: "We must not obey the king against that king that made him a king".

He was the author of The Saint's Hope, and Infallibleness Thereof (Middelburg, 1608); Two Sermons (Middelburg, 1608); A Treatise Tending to the Clearing of Justification (Middelburg, 1616); A Treatise how God's Spirit may be Discerned from Man's Own Spirit (London, 1617); Four Sermons on 1 Tim. Vi. 13–16 (1635); A Sermon on 2 Tim. Ii. 4 (Delft, 1642); Certaine Records Touching the Estate of the Kirk in the Years 1605 and 1606 (Edinburgh, Wodrow Society, 1846).

He also wrote a Letter to the merchants adventurer at Stoad which was published at Middelburg in 1617.

In this he writes the following rich expressions of high spiritual experience:

So whatever the Word doth persuade our heart touching God and his love in Christ, that is the testimony of the spirit and therefore when hearing the word of God, our hearts receive any assurance or persuasion of redemption, or remission of sins &c the same must be the spirit's testimony... but still we must not mistake the spirit's testimony, for the spirit, by the word persuades in two manner of ways... specially - 1. when it witnesses and reveals of grace particularly to a man but imprints not the
thing revealed in the heart, neither seals it in the soul. 2. When the promise is written in the heart and sealed in the soul: this is the Covenant with the elect, assurance of God's effectual speaking, when he writes the testimony in the heart - the word must abide in the heart.

He also spoke of when the Spirit pours in the love of God and all the graces revealed in the Word and sheds them abroad in the heart as faith, and so makes the heart to receive, enjoy, and possess the promise by imprinting therein. So if a man could see the soul of a true child of God he should see engraven on it mercy, peace, love, righteousness, life, joy, and Christ himself and all the promises of God and Christ written therein...

...the saint will feel strange affects wrought in their minds, which they neither know whence they come and whereunto they tend...