Witherspoon, John

, an eminent divine in Scotland and America, and a lineal descendant from Knox the celebrated Scotch reformer, was born Feb. 5, 1722, at Yester near Edinburgh, of which parish his father was minister. After some previous education at the public school at Haddingtonj he was, at the age of fourteen, sent to the university of Edinburgh, and having gone through the usual course of academical studies, was licensed to preach, and soon after was ordained minister of the parish of Beith, in the west of Scotland, whence, in a few years, he was removed to be minister at the large and flourishing town of Paisley. During his residence here he was much admired for his general learning, his abilities in the pulpit, and for his writings, one of which, his “Ecclesiastical Characteristics,” is perhaps one of the most humorous satires ever written on a subject which apparently did not admit of that mode of treatment. No satire in our time was read with more approbation and interest than Witherspoon’s a Characteristics“for many years in Scotland. It is levelled at the party in the general assembly of Scotland, who were called the moderate men, in contradistinction to those called the orthodox, of who adhered strictly to the doctrines contained in their national” Confession or Faith.“From this publication, and from his speeches in the general assembly, Witherspoon acquired much influence, but he had to contend with almost all the literary force of the assembly, the Blairs, Gerards, Campbells, and Robertsons, who were considered as the leaders of the moderate party. One day, after carrying some important questions against Dr. Robertson, the latter said in his pleasant manner,” I think you have your men better disciplined than formerly.“”Yes,“replied Witherspoon,” by urging your politics too | far, you have compelled us to beat you with your own weapons."

During Dr. Witherspoon’s residency at Paisley, he had eligible offers from Dublin, from Dundee, and from Rotterdam, which he rejected, but at length his reputation having reached that continent, he was induced to accept an offer from America, and on his arrival at Prince-town in 1768, was appointed president of the college there, the prosperity of which was greatly augmented under his administration, not only with respect to its funds and the number of students, but from his introducing evei;y improvement in education and science, which fyad been adopted in Europe. When the revolutionary war was approaching, he became a decided friend to the cause of America, and was for seven years a member of the congress. After the peace he paid a visit to England, and returning soon after to Prince-town, died there Nov. 15, 1794, in his seventy-third year. His printed works, very superior in point of style and manner, consist of “Essays” in 3 vols. 8vo, on theological topics, and two volumes of “Sermons,” besides the “Characteristics,” already noticed, and a work “On the nature and effects of the Stage,” which at one time made a great noise. Bishop Warburton mentions “The Characteristics” with particular approbation. 1

1 Funeral Sermon by Dr. Rodgers, in Prot. Diss. Mag, vol. II.