Spencer, John a learned English divine was a native of Bocton-under-Blean, in Kent, where he was baptized Oct. 31, 1630. He was educated at Canterbury, and admitted to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, March 25, 1645, taking his A.B. in 1648, A.M. in 1652, and being chosen fellow in 1655. He became a tutor, was appointed a university preacher, and served the cures, first of St. Giles and then of St. Benedict, in Cambridge. He took the degree of B.D. in 1659, and that of D.D. in 1665; was presented, 1667, by his college to the rectory of Landbeach, Cambridgeshire, and Aug. 3 was elected master of the college. About a month later 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. He resigned, 1683, the rectory of Landbeach in favor of his kinsman, Wm. Spencer. In 1687 he purchased an estate in Elmington, Northamptonshire, and settled it by deed on the college. He died May 27, 1695. Dr. Spencer published a sermon, The Righteous Ruler (1660): — A Discourse concerning Prodigies (1663); a second edition was published (Lond. 1665, 8vo), to which was added a Latin Dissertation concerning Urim and Thummim (1669, 1670): — A Discourse concerning Vulgar Prophecies' (1665, 8vo): — De Legibus Hebroeorum Ritualibus et earum Rationibus Libri Tres (Camb. 1685, 2 vols. fol.); afterwards greatly enlarged by the addition of a fourth book, and published by order of the university (ibid. 1727, 2 vols. fol.). "This is usually regarded as the best edition, although that by Pfaff (Tübingen, 1732, 2 vols. fol.) is in some respects more desirable, as it contains a dissertation by the editor on the life of Spencer, the value of his work, its errors, and the authors who have written against it. The work is preceded by Prolegomena, in which the author shows that the Mosaic laws were not given by God arbitrarily, but were founded on reasons which it is desirable and profitable to search into, so far as the obscurity of the subject permits. The work itself is divided into three (in the second edition into four) books. The first book treats of the general reasons of the Mosaic laws, with a dissertation on the Theocracy. The second considers those laws to which the customs of the Zabeans, or Sabeans, gave occasion, with a dissertation on the apostolic decree, Acts 15. The third discusses the laws and institutions to which the usages of the Gentiles furnished the occasion, in eight dissertations:
1. Of the rites generally transferred from Gentile customs to the law; 2. Of the origin of sacrifice; 3. Of purifications; 4. Of new moons; 5. Of the ark and cherubim; 6. Of the Temple; 7. Of the origin of Urim and Thummim; 8. Of the scape goat.
The fourth book treats of the rites and customs which the Jews borrowed from the Gentiles, without, so far as appears, any divine warrant; with a dissertation on phylacteries. The great error of this learned and admirable work is its derivation, to an undue extent, of the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish law from the idolatrous nations around; but the error is one of excess, not of principle; for much that was incorporated in Judaism had been in existence from the earliest ages." See Chalmers, Biog. Dict. s.v.; Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Générale, s.v.; Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors, s.v.