John Wherry was born near Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, USA, on May 23rd, 1837. He was graduated from Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary; and, after marriage, made the then long voyage to China, arriving in Shanghai in November, 1864. In that city he spent some years in language study and in charge of the growing Presbyterian Mission Press. He came to Peking (Beijing) in 1872, where he rendered nearly fifty years of service in the Presbyterian Mission, broken only by furloughs, temporary absences for Bible work, and a year or two of teaching in the College at Tengchoufu (now Penglai), Shantung (Shandong) province, during a furlough of Dr. C. W. Mateer. In the Peking Presbyterian Boys’ School, and later in Union College at Tunghsien (now Tongzhou district) and Union Theological College in Peking, he made a significant contribution by teaching a variety of subjects.
In earlier years he preached regularly in the Street Chapel. He was, for many years, the able and painstaking Mission Treasurer; and he examined hundreds of books and tracts offered to one publishing house or another for publication. He had a prominent part in the establishment of the North China Tract Society, later merged into the Religious Tract Society for North and Central China, and for many years prepared a regular portion of its Sunday School Lesson Helps. He was always a faithful and wise counselor on Boards of Managers of Union and other institutions, and took a strong interest in the development of the new Peking University, and the Union Language School. He found keen pleasure in helping new missionaries over hard places in acquiring the Chinese language and examining them in the work accomplished.
Dr. Wherry’s scholarship was of a high order, and was maintained by constant reading and study to the very end, thus enabling him, through wide versatility, to render a varied service to Mission and community. Linguistically and scientifically he was well equipped for the pursuit, enjoyment, and employment of the broad interests of his mind and heart, while a profound faith in God and personal acquaintance with Him through His Son Jesus Christ gave him such a grasp on the things of eternity that he could calmly rest in the faithful performance of duty that he thought God had given him and await with assurance the ultimate development of the Kingdom of God in China and in all the world. Among all his labors, by no other will he be so long remembered as by his share in the revision, or new translation, of the entire Bible into Wenli. Having maintained and improved his early familiarity with the original tongues, and devoted himself zealously to the acquisition of theWenli style, and having been a member of the committee from the beginning to the end (a period of twenty-eight years), his part in giving God’s Word to the educated men of China will remain, in a special way, Dr. Wherry’s monument. His one great longing was to live long enough to put the finishing touches to this work, and his prayer was granted in the completion of the proof-reading, to which he gave minute personal attention. His work was completed, and his mortal remains were laid to rest with hands clasping a Chinese Bible, while another copy was laid upon the lid of the casket..
Dr. Wherry’s manner of life was of the simplest. Left alone in China for more than half his long period of service through the return of wife and children to America about 1892, whence Mrs. Wherry never found herself able to come back, he declined all offers of a home with others in Peking, yet remained genial, considerate, and benevolent. Socially unobtrusive, he was yet cheerful and entertaining in company, which he thoroughly enjoyed, having a large fund of amusing stories always at command. He could not resist the appeal of the street-beggar, or the impecunious delinquent, and few applicants for “letters of introduction” were ever turned down. His prayer-meeting talks and prayers, whatever the theme of the meeting, almost invariably urged the duty of charitable treatment of Chinese faults and failures in the hope of reformation and redemption. He was ever ready with words of sympathy in sorrow, and with cordial appreciation of work done by his younger colleagues, to whom his unaffected words and example often pointed the way and inspired them to yet higher attainments.
Dr. Wherry passed away on the 30th of December, 1918. Great loss was felt, yet all those who knew him rejoiced in his peaceful, triumphant home-going “to be with Christ, which is far better.”
Adapted from the Chinese Recorder.
- Chinese Recorder 1919, February, Vol. 50, pp. 120-122.