Wemyss, John (DNB00)


WEMYSS or WEEMES, JOHN (1579?–1636), divine, born about 1579, was the only son of John Wemyss of Lathockar in Fife. He was educated at the university of St. Andrews, where he graduated M.A. in 1600. In 1608 he was appointed by the general assembly minister of Hutton in Berwickshire, ‘as one of the best learned and disposed for peace of those of the side of the ministers, for maintaining unity among the brethren, who were considered as tending to episcopacy.’ At the conference between the ministers and bishops at Falkland in May 1609, however, Wemyss was chosen a representative of the ministers (Wodrow, Collections, Spalding Soc., p. 240). In 1613 he was translated to Dunse, and in 1618 was present at the assembly at Perth, where he was chosen by Archbishop Spottiswood as one of the ministers' representatives at the preliminary conference held on 26 Aug. On 26 Jan. 1619–20, in company with several other ministers, he appeared before the court of high commission to answer the charge of contumacy in not carrying out the form of ritual prescribed by the five articles of Perth, and on 2 March he and his fellows were dismissed with a reprimand and an earnest remonstrance from Spottiswood.

After this warning Wemyss devoted himself entirely to the peaceful paths of scriptural study. In 1623 he published ‘The Christian Synagogue. Wherein is contayned the diverse Reading, the right Poynting, Translation, and Collation of Scripture with Scripture. With the customes of the Hebrewes and Proselytes and of all those Nations with whom they were conversant’ (London, 4to). The work, which was dedicated to Thomas Hamilton, earl of Melrose [q. v.], and contained an address to the Christian reader by William Symson, reached a fourth edition in 1633. It was followed in 1627 by ‘The Portraiture of the Image of God in Man’ (London, 4to; 3rd ed. 1636, 4to, dedicated to Sir David Foulis [q. v.]), and in 1632 by ‘An Explication of the Judicial Lawes of Moses’ (London, 4to), dedicated to the Earl of Seaforth, by ‘An Explanation of the Ceremonial Lawes of Moses’ (London, 4to), dedicated to Sir Robert Ker (afterwards first Earl of Ancrum) [q. v.], and by ‘An Exposition of the Morall Law or Ten Commandements of Almightie God, set downe by way of Exercitations’ (London, 4to), dedicated to James Hay, first earl of Carlisle [q. v.], which was frequently bound with the preceding work. In reward of his achievements Charles I nominated him to the second prebend of Durham, where he was installed on 7 June 1634. He died in 1636. He was twice married: first, to Margaret Cockburn, by whom he had a son David; and, secondly, to Janet Murray, by whom he had a daughter and a son John, who succeeded him in his estate at Lathockar.

Besides enjoying considerable contemporary fame, the expository works of Wemyss were praised and perhaps read by authors who flourished long after his death. In addition to the works already mentioned he was the author of:

  1. ‘Exercitations Divine containing diverse Questions and Solutions for the right understanding of the Scriptures,’ London, 1634, 8vo. Dedicated to Sir Thomas Coventry [q. v.]
  2. ‘Observations Naturall and Morall, with a short Treatise of the Numbers, Weights, and Measures, used by the Hebrewes,’ London, 1636, 8vo. Copies of Wemyss's treatises were bound in three or four volumes and issued with fresh title-pages bearing the date 1636 or 1637 as ‘The Workes of Mr. Iohn Weemse of Lathocker.’

Wemyss must be distinguished from four contemporaries: John Wemyss, the commissary of St. Andrews University, a strong supporter of the crown; John Wemyss (d. 1659), minister of Cuikstone, afterwards Kinnaird in Brechin, who was equally zealous in opposing the ecclesiastical innovations of James VI and Charles I; John Wemyss (d. 1632?), minister of Nigg in Aberdeenshire, and John Wemyss (d. 1640), minister of Rothes, who was reputed a brother of John, first earl of Wemyss.

[Wemyss's Works; Douglas's Baronage, i. 553; Scot's Fasti Eccles. Scoticanæ, I. ii. 403, 440; Calderwood's Hist. of the Kirk of Scotland (Wodrow Soc.), vol. vii. passim.]

E. I. C.