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John Flavel was born in Worcestershire, about the year 1627. He was religiously educated by his father, and, after having attended a grammar-school, became a commoner of University College, Oxford. Here he was much respected for his piety and learning; and, though but young, was soon recommended as a person duly qualified to become assistant minister to an aged clergyman, the rector of Deptford in Devonshire. He was soon afterwards regularly ordained, and at the incumbent's death succeeded to the rectory.
In this situation he applied himself with the greatest zeal and diligence to his studies and ministerial labors, and gained much of the affection of his people by his disinterestedness in relinquishing a considerable part of his income, in order, as he declared, that “he might have no incumbrances or distractions from the world to hinder his spiritual work.” But the eminence and reputation he attained by his exemplary conduct at Deptford, were the means of removing him from this charge in 1656. The neighbouring and populous town of Dartmouth had just lost its minister, and the people were in some danger of divisions and dissentions, especially as they could not agree in approving of any one of the candidates for the vacant office. They therefore sent Flavel a pressing invitation to become their minister; and he, after much prayer and deliberation, thinking it to be his duty to comply, was prevailed upon to remove to Dartmouth, though the stipend was considerably less than he had received at Deptford.
In 1662, after the passing of the Act of Uniformity, he was ejected with the rest of the nonconformists; but he still took every opportunity of preaching and administering the Sacraments to his flock privately, not considering himself discharged from the care of their souls, because he had been deprived of his living. At first these meetings were not attended with much risk, but after the Oxford Act, which prohibited all nonconformists to approach nearer than the distance of five miles from any corporate town, it was no longer safe for him to remain in Dartmouth, or even to visit his congregation there. This faithful servant of God, however,could not be induced to be idle, when aware that his exertions were needed; and he often secretly entered Dartmouth, to teach and exhort some of his former congregation, though with much danger, because he was watched by many of his enemies. Once he was attacked by the mob as he was preaching in a wood within three miles of Exeter, but by the care of his hearers made his escape, and preached to them in another wood, without any disturbance. In London also he narrowly escaped being taken. He afterwards returned to Dartmouth, and here for some time was confined a close prisoner to his house. Such were the troubles he endured for more than twenty years; but after this time it pleased Gnd to restore him to his public usefulness, by the repeal