Spencer, John

, a learned divine, was a native of Bocton under Biean, in Kent, where he was baptised, Oct. 31, 1G30. While an infant he lost his father, who, leaving him in very narrow circumstances, the care and expence of his education was undertaken by an uncle. By bin) he was sent to the free school at Canterbury, where he made great proficiency, and became a king’s scholar. At the age of fourteen he was recommended by Mr. Thomas Jackson, then the onry prebendary of that church, t a Parker scholarship in Corpus college, Cambridge, of which he was admitted, March 25, 1645. Under Mr. Richard Kennet, an excellent tutor, an ancestor of the bishop of Peterborough, he applied with great assiduity to his studies, and having taken his degrees in arts, that of A. B. in 164-8, and of A. Jvj. in 1652, he was chosen fellow of his college in 1655. About this time his uncle, who had hitherto supported his education, died, and having kept an xact account of what he had expended, left the same tincancelled, and his executors and sons immediately sued Mr. Spencer for the debt, which he was totally unable to ;niy. In this perplexity he found friends i- it college, among w.,om was Dr. Tenison, afterwards achbishop of Canterbury, who raised a loin among the suthcit-nt to extricate him from the rigour of his unworny relations. He now also became a tutor, and entering int. holy orders was appointed one of the university preacher-, -Ik. served the cures, first of St. Gyles’s, and then of St. Benedict, | in Cambridge. In 1659 he proceeded B. D. As he was not ciisuJrhed in his fellowship, it has been supposed that he acquiesced in the measures taken during the usurpation, without approving them. He was soon, however, released from this painful restraint by the restoration, on which event he preached a sermon before the university, June 2tf, 1660, which was printed the same year, under the title of “The Righteous Ruler.” He published about three years after, a preservative against the prophecies in which the fanatics of that day dealt very largely. This he entitled “A discourse concerning Prodigies, wherein the vanity of presages by them is reprehended, and their true and proper ends asserted and vindicated.A second edition of this seasonable and learned work, corrected and enlarged, was published at London, 1665, 8vo; when was added to it, “A discourse concerning vulgar Prophecies; wherein the vanity of receiving them, as the certain indications of any future event, is discovered; and some characters of distinction between true and pretended prophets are laid down.” In this last- mentioned year he proceeded D. D. and in 1667 was presented by his college to the rectory of Landbeach, in Cambridgeshire, and Aug. 3, was elected master of the college. In this office he shewed himself not only a lover of learning, but a great encourager of it in others, as the many salutary regulations made in ­his time concerning the discipline and exercises of the college amply testily and the society had such an opinion of liis judgment an1 integrity, that he was generally made the arbiter of their differences.

While he was vice-chancellor, the duke of Monmouth was chosen chaucellor of the university, and upon his instalment Dr. Spencer addressed his ^race in a speech, published by Hi/arne in his appendix to the " Vindiciac

Tho. Caii." Mr. Masters mentions it as somewhat singular, that Dr. Spencer, while holding the high office of head of a hoiuse, was suspended bv Dr. Borcle, surrogate to the official, lor tun appearing at the archdeacon’s visitation, but what the issue was he has not discovered. Dr. Spencer had c ntr.ieie.lA:I early and intimate acquaintance with Mr. Thomas Hill, ah<> was admitted of Corpus about the same time vvuh himself, which, notwithstanding their differing in their opinions, Hill being a non-conformist, continued to the end of the life of the latter. This appears by a correspondence, referred to by Calamy, in which the doctor | expresses a high regard and affection for hirn, and made him some kind and generous offers whenever he should have a son fit to send to the university. His charity, indeed, to 'non-conformist ministers, if goo! and pious men, seems to have bt-en so extensive, that he, with the learned Dr. Henry More, made one of them, Mr. Robert Wilson, their almoner in this branch of it. And so greai a respect had he for his tutor, Mr Kennet, who was a sufferer in this cause, that he not only frequently visited him as long as he lived, but was kind to his poor widow for his sake.

About a month after being elected master of Corpus, he was preferred by the king to the archdeaconry of Sudbury, in 1672 to a prebend of Ely, and in 1677 to the deanery of that church. In 1669 he published a Latin dissertation concerning Urim and Thummim, reprinted in 1670, In 1683 iie resigned the rectory of Landbeach in favour of his kinsman, William vSpencer, A. M. fellow of the collage; and 1685 published at Cambridge, in 2 vols. folio, his celebrated work, “De legibus Hebraeorum ritualibus et etiruiu rationibus libri tres.” His professe<i view in explaining the reasons of the Mosaic ritual, was to vindicate the ways of God to men, and clear the Deity, as he tells in his preface, from arbitrary and fantastic humour; with which some, not discerning these reasons, had been ready to charge him, and thence had fallen into unbelief. But this attempt very much displeased all those, who think the divinity of any doctrine or institution weakened, in prOTportion as it is proved to be rational; and one great objection to it, even among some who are not irrationalists, is, the learned author’s having advanced, that many rites and cen monies of the Jewish nation are deduced from the practices of their heathen and idolatrous neighbours. This position uuve no small offence, as greatly derogatory from the aivine institution of those rites; and many writers attacked it both at home and abroad, particularly Herman Wit>iiis 1:1 his “^gyptiaca,” sir John Marsham, Caimet, and Shi.ckford. His position has been, since their time, shortU and ably refuted in a treatise by Dr. Woodward, entitled “A Discourse on the worship of the ancient Egyptians,” communicated to the Society of Antiquaries by Dr. Lort in 1775, and more recently (1799) by the late Rev. William Jones, in his“Considerations on the religious worship of ttie Heainens.” Mr. Jones says, that Dr. Spencer, “preposterously deduced the rites of the Hebrews from | therites of the Heathens; and so produced a work of learned appearance, and composed in elegant Latin, but disgraceful to Christian divinity, dishonourable to the church of England, and affording a very bad example to vain scholars who should succeed him.” Others, however, saw no ill consequences from admitting it; and the work upon the whole has been highly valued, for extensive erudition and research. The author afterwards greatly enlarged it, particularly with the addition of a fourth book; and his papers, being committed at his death to archbishop Tenison, were bequeathed by that prelate to the university of Cambridge, together with the sum of 50l. to forward the printing of them. At length Mr. Leonard Chappelow, fellow of St. John’s-college, and professor of Arabic, being deputed by the university, and offered the reward, undertook a new edition of this work, with the author’s additions and improvements; and published it at Cambridge, in 1727, in 2 vols. folio. It was also previously reprinted at the Hague in 1686, 4to and at Leipsic in 1705.

Dr. Spencer died May 27, 1695, in the sixty-third year of his age, and was interred in the chapel of Corpus-college. To this college such was his liberality, that Mr. Masters says “he far exceeded all former benefactors.” In 1687, he purchased an estate at Elmington, an hamlet belonging to Oundle in Northamptonshire, which cost him 3600l. and settled it by a deed of gift on the college, for the augmentation of the mastership, fellowships, scholarships, &c. and, in his will, bequeathed various sums to the society, to the church and deanery of Ely, and to the poor of the parishes in which he had officiated. He married Hannah, the daughter of Isaac Pullen of Hertford, by whom he had a son and daughter, but neither survived him. 1


Biog. Brit.—Master’s History of C. C. C. C.