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MEARS or MAIRS, JOHN (1695?–1767), Irish presbyterian divine, was born at Loughbrickland, co. Down, about 1695, or perhaps earlier. His father was John Mairs, presbyterian minister successively at Loughbrickland, 1687, Longford, 1697, and Newtownards, co. Down, 1707, where he died on 25 Dec. 1718. The spelling Mears is Irish, the pronunciation being Mairs. Mears entered Glasgow University in 1710, graduated M.A. in 1713, and studied divinity under John Simson [q. v.], whose teaching shook his orthodoxy. Early in 1718 he was licensed by Down presbytery, and ordained by the same body on 20 Feb. 1720 at Newtownards, in succession to his father. On the outbreak of the non-subscription controversy in 1720, Mears, who was clerk of Down presbytery, sided strongly with the non-subscribers. In 1722 he made overtures to Francis Hutchinson [q. v.], bishop of Down and Connor, offering to conform to the established church. The matter came before Down presbytery on 22 Nov. 1722, when Mears ascribed his action to a 'temptation of Satan,' and said it would have 'a good effect upon him in making him a more able advocate of the presbyterian cause.' Part of his flock was dissatisfied, and in May 1723 the presbytery erected the minority into a separate congregation. In July 1724 Thomas Nevin [q. v.], presbyterian minister of Downpatrick, brought an action for defamation against Echlin, a layman of the established church at Bangor, co. Down, who had called him an Arian. Mears was present at the Downpatrick assizes when the case came on. The judge asked several episcopal clergymen to explain to the bench what Arianism was; on their declining, Mears volunteered an explanation, on which the judge complimented him (Campbell). In the previous month Mears had himself been accused of Arianism in a pamphlet ('Defence,' &c., 1724), published by Gilbert Kennedy [q. v.] From this charge he vindicated himself in an anonymous contribution to the 'Letter to Kennedy,' 1725, by Samuel Haliday [q. v.] In June 1725 Mears with his congregation were transferred to the Antrim presbytery, excluded from jurisdiction, as non-subscribing, in 1726.

In 1735 he resigned Newtownards to take charge of the small presbyterian congregation at Clonmel, co. Tipperary, where he was installed on 9 April. Here in 1738 he had between seventy and eighty communicants. On 9 Jan. 1740 he was installed minister of a small congregation in Stafford Street, Dublin, which had separated from Capel Street congregation, on 10 Oct. 1738. In December 1740 he preached at Wood Street (and published) a funeral sermon for John Abernethy (1680-1740) [q. v.] In 1762 the Stafford Street congregation amalgamated with that in Wood Street, when Hears became colleague to Samuel Bruce, father of William Bruce (1757-1841) [q. v.] A new meeting-house was built for the united congregation in Strand Street; Mears preached the opening sermon on 22 Jan. 1764. He died on 11 Oct. 1767. Armstrong says 'he died in 1768, about the eighty-fifth year of his age, having been fifty-nine years a minister;' this last statement must be corrected to forty-seven years; he was probably ordained as soon as possible, and therefore born late in 1694 or early in 1695, making his age at death seventy-two. He left one son, who settled in Calcutta, and a daughter, who married John Brown, presbyterian minister at Waterford. A portrait was engraved by R. Hunter.

He was author of:

  1. ‘A Catechism … In three Parts; for the use of Adult Persons,’ London, 1732, 12mo, often reprinted, and in general use, as superseding the Westminster ‘shorter catechism,’ in Irish non-subscribing congregations till the present century; the last edition, Belfast, 1818, 16mo, ‘revised and recommended by the Presbytery of Antrim,’ is virtually a new catechism on the basis of Mears's.
  2. ‘A Short Explanation … of the Lord's Supper,’ Dublin, 1758, 12mo; mainly incorporated in ‘Forms of Devotion … By J. Leland, J. Duchal, I. Weld, and J. Mears,’ Dublin, 1772, 16mo.

[Armstrong's Short Account of the General Fund, 1815, p. 77; Armstrong's Appendix to Martineau's Ordination Service, 1829, pp. 75, 99 sq.; Reid's Hist. Presb. Church in Ireland (Killen), 1867, iii. 131, 166, 184, 191; Witherow's Hist. and Lit. Memorials of Presbyterianism in Ireland, 1880, ii. 26 sq.; Killen's Hist. Congr. Presb. Church in Ireland, 1886, pp. 104, 185, 207 sq.; Irwin's Hist. Presbyterianism in Dublin, 1890, pp. 286 sq.; Records of General Synod of Ulster, 1890, i. 456, 486, 518; Campbell's manuscript Sketches of the Hist. of Presb. in Ireland, 1803.]

A. G.