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A N Groves – ‘Christian Devotedness’


A N Groves

It was while I was researching the history of the first great split among the brethren in 1845 that I encountered the name of A. N. Groves, who had written a letter to Darby expressing his concern that Darby’s insistence upon enforcement of excommunications and disciplines enacted in one meeting be effected in every meeting would destroy the fundamental principle which initially had drawn them together in fellowship.

He wrote: 

I ever understood our principle of communion to be the possession of the common life, or common blood of the family of God; these were our early thoughts, and they are my most matured ones. The transition your little bodies have undergone, in no longer standing forth the witnesses for the glorious and simple truth, so much as standing forth witnesses against all that they judge error, has lowered them in my apprehension from heaven to earth, in their position as witnesses….The position which this occupying the seat of judgment places them in, will be this: The most narrow-minded and bigoted will rule, because his conscience cannot and will not give way, and therefore the more enlarged heart will yield. It is into this position, dear Darby, I feel some little flocks are fast tending, if they have not already attained it, making light, not life, the measure of communion.  (Ironside p.36) 

Groves had also appeared among the very first brethren meeting with Darby and Dr E Cronin at Dublin, and at the Powerscourt ‘prophecy conferences.’ I decided that I needed to explore a little more about the lives of the seemingly ‘minor characters’ in the brethren movement of that age outside of the main protagonists; Darby, Newton, Muller, etc.  The first name to attract my attention was Mr Anthony Norris Groves, and a relatively superficial analysis convinced me his life was worth a rather more detailed study. 


A Norris Groves

Early Life (Podcast Episode 1

Anthony Norris Groves was born in Newtown Valence, Hampshire in 1795, the only boy in a family of six children. Following his local elementary education, Norris was enrolled at a quality school at Fulham, paid for by his father, who believed that money spent on eduction was never wasted.  While at Fulham he lodged with his uncle, Mr Thompson, the local dentist, under whose tutelage he later studied dentistry.  The school insisted that all its pupils attended the local parish church, and young Norris complied, but with a novel secreted inside his prayer book to occupy the time during the liturgy!  It was while at church that heard John Owen preach, and in his mind thought how good it would be if he could go to India, and even bring one soul out of paganism and idolatry; in his memoirs he admits that at this time he himself, was being defiant toward God.  His friendship with his cousin Mary Bethia Thompson grew, and they often had spiritual conversations and he recalls in his memoirs that he had bought her a Bible.   

Norris completed his training as a dentist, and set up practice in Plymouth, where his first annual wage was £400.  He was so encouraged by this he wrote to ask Mary for permission to ask her father for her hand in marriage.  Her father refused in the grounds of their being first cousins, and this brought him a great depth of sadness, which he attempted to alleviate by religious activity.   His memoirs record: 

‘… it is evident, by his own account, it was at this time more the burden of natural sorrow than a sense of sin which made him seek peace out of himself in Jesus,’  (Groves F. 1869 p.25). 

Following the death of another daughter, Norris’s uncle relented on his refusal to allow the marriage of his daughter Mary to Norris Groves, and after marriage they set up home in Exeter, Norris still working at Plymouth.  At Exeter, they met an influential woman in early brethrenism, Miss Elisabeth (Bessie) Paget, who had connections to the brethren who were meeting at Barnstable, with Robert Chapman and a local schoolmaster, Mr Hake.  Miss Paget was by all accounts a godly woman, and a great encouragement to other believers, and highly respected in the local community for her practical expressions of Christianity.  When she died over a thousand people stood round her grave, mourning her passing.  Of Miss Paget,  Norris Groves’ (second) wife Mrs F Groves later wrote: 

‘It was here (Plymouth) also, he was able able to profess himself a disciple of Christ, having owed much to the ministry of Mr Joseph Richards and M Hitchens; but his entry into the full liberty of gospel light did not take place till some time after, in Exeter, where he was greatly indebted to a Christian lady, Miss Paget, to whom, he says, he ever looked up as his mother in the things of God.’  (Groves F. 1869 p.3).

… the full gospel was not yet known by him, as it was a few years after, through the instrumentality of a dear friend in Exeter.’  (Groves F. 1869 p.25). 

R.B.Dann notes: 

‘The concept of an individual divine call to salvation, irrespective of personal merit, was introduced to Groves by Bessie Paget, a nonconformist lady in Exeter, and by John Marriott, the Anglican curate of Broad Clyst. Marriott was particularly influential in Mary’s conversion.’   (Dann, cited from the International Bulletin – p.201, The Legacy of Anthony Norris Groves)

‘Bessie spoke openly about his need to accept and believe God’s love for him.  The sisters’ unashamed devotion to Jesus made Norris feel awkward, especially as they were not members of the Church of England; indeed they bore the stigma of dissent…  The scriptures she showed him finally brought the young dentist into assurance of salvation.  Abandoning all hope of making himself worthy of God’s love, he put his trust completely in Christ as Saviour.’  (Dann, R.B. 2004, p.21)

Christian Devotedness

It was in 1825 that Norris Groves wrote and published his booklet ‘CHRISTIAN DEVOTEDNESS’. The booklet was the basis of his later missiology, encouraging Christians to live humbly and depend upon the Lord for their needs.  The booklet expounds the teachings of Jesus on Christian Stewardship of material possessions, and exhorts all Christians to trust God to supply their needs.  The underlying philosophy of this book may have been influenced by his father, who believed and practised that money was for USING not for ACCUMULATING.  His father had underwritten a number of ventures, seldom with success, and had supported worthy causes.  The booklet had a profound impact on George Muller, who also practised a simple, faith based life, and through him on Hudson Taylor.  In the preface, Groves writes:    

“The purpose of this little book is to show that the dedication demonstrated by the early disciples, is without exception, enforced by the commands of our Saviour. And not only that, but it is illustrated by the conduct of the apostles and early Christians. The author therefore asks that all sincere disciples of Christ carefully weigh what is written here in the balance of the Sanctuary, not the balance of the world.” “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6. (Groves, 1825, Preface)

Groves had gained a fuller assurance of salvation and become convinced that a better way to worship and serve God was in a simple New Testament pattern, with neither clergy nor denomination.   He had been studying theology at Trinity College Dublin, whilst working towards Anglican ordination and acceptance as a missionary with CMS.  Whilst there for lectures and tutorials, he had been meeting with Christians of various denominations, gathered together in homes and parlours, to have simple meetings along New Testament lines.  Among these gathered brethren were John Bellet, and J N Darby, an Anglican curate, working as an itinerant evangelist in the Wicklow hills.  Dann records,  

By April 1827, Groves could report, “What a wonderful state of things appears to be arising in Ireland!” Here indeed were Christians united as in the days of the apostles, without any of the denominational requirements or prejudices that elsewhere divided brother from brother.’ (Dann, 2004, p.46). 

The Break with Anglicanism

In 1827 Groves was due to travel to Dublin to attend at the university, as he did every three months, but by this time he was becoming more and more convinced that ordination in the established church was not for him; that he could no longer agree with the Thirty Nine Articles on pacifist grounds.  Groves had put aside the money for the travel and lodgings, but before he could leave, his home was burgled and his money stolen.  His wife had already advised him not to go but to follow his conscience,  and he considered that the burglary was a sign from God which convinced him that further formal studies and ordination were unnecessary in order to serve God. Groves relinquished his place on the course, and the following year he severed his link with CMS. 

It was in 1827 that Groves decided that he should seek adult baptism, by total immersion.  Despite the modern requirement from the Open Brethren for credo-baptism as a condition of membership, this was not a demand or requirement from the brethren of the day, for Darby was a paedobaptist, and remained so, as have many of the Exclusive Brethren, who practice household baptism to this day.   Groves, through his own study of the New Testament, came to the conclusion that a Christian should be baptised by immersion, on profession of faith, and acted accordingly.  This is well illustrated by an incident that occurred shortly after the baptism had taken place,  when a friend said, “Of course you must be a baptist now you are baptised.  Groves’s reply was:

“No!” I desire to follow all in those things in which they follow Christ; but I would not, by joining one party, cut myself off from others.”  Then taking up the ring upon which the keys were hung, he said, “If these keys were to hold by one another all would go if one fell; but as each of them is attached to this strong ring, so should we each take hold of Christ, not of any of the systems of men, and then we shall be safe and united: we should keep together, not because of any human system, but because Jesus is ONE.”  (Coad, F.R. 1968, p23)

The Journey to Baghdad. (Podcast Episode 2)

In our last episode we looked at the early life, conversion and call of Anthony Norris Groves. His first missionary station was in the city of Baghdad in modern Iraq, and as we shall see, his journey to get there and the hardships he endured there, are a wonderful example of Christian perseverance, borne of the knowledge that God had called him into service for his kingdom, and patient endurance, depending on the goodness, grace and calling of God.

So let’s find out more about A N Groves, and the mission to Baghdad.

Groves believed that a man called to ministry should obey the call without any appeal for funds, but simply trusting in God, and believing that the God who called him would provide for his needs, and Groves believed that there was a great need among the people of the Middle East. Needless to say this was not welcome news to the Thompson family. Mary’s father was horrified – was outraged by Grove’s reckless plan, even going so far as to write to Groves, demanding repayment of a £1000 loan, made to Groves’ father before Norris left the country. Still, Groves left England without seeking any financial backing, travelling with his wife and two sons, Henry and Frank, on a yacht to St.Petersburg in Russia and then overland to Baghdad. The journey took six months.

The yacht ‘Osprey’ – probably don’t think of it as similar to pleasure boats in Bangor marina, but a larger sailing craft – she sailed from Gravesend on 12th June 1829, with the Groves family on board, along with Norris’s sister Lydia, a Mr Bathie from Scotland, Miss Charlotte Taylor and Mr John Kitto, the children’s Tutor. Kitto was deaf and dumb, and throughout the journey and later in Baghdad he taught the children by means of sign language. A wealthy lady, a Mrs Taylor, whose husband was a foreign office official in Basra and later Baghdad, also made the journey along with the party, to ensure her own safe passage, and with her went her four servants. Lydia, Norris’s sister became unwell during the sea leg of the journey and was advised to return to England.

The part of the journey over land was horrendous. The road was dangerous, often little more than dirt tracks, the missionaries attached themselves to larger commercial caravans for safety, but even these were attacked, – religious tensions between the various Muslim sects, warring tribes, poor and uncomfortable accommodation, bad food and water, exhausted horses, damage to vehicles, rain and flood, all these condition made the journey a nightmare.

But the missionary group were determined to get to their destination, even though they were warned of the dangers, and again they trusted in the Lord for their safe arrival. And they found encouragement along the way, meeting and enjoying fellowship with Christians of many denominations and nationalities.

They met and befriended Dr & Mrs William Glen. Dr Glen was translating the Old Testament into Farsi, and Groves and Glen became great friends. They had theological differences, but they enjoyed a warm brotherly relationship.

Further along the route they enjoyed the hospitality of a group of German Lutheran Pietists, who were of a similar mind in regard to missions. One of these brethren, Karl Pfander joined the team to work in Baghdad, and was a great blessing to Groves along the way, and his knowledge of the local languages a huge benefit.

However, although the missionary group had now gained another traveller, they were destined to lose Charlotte Taylor at Tabriz, where she met a young man working for the British East India Company, a Mr Nesbitt, a committed Christian, and she remained behind and later married him. Mr Nesbitt made a generous donation to Grove’s costs, but it still saddened the missionary that he had lost a valuable worker. He reached the conclusion that young unmarried women were probably not suitable missionary material!

The travellers reached Baghdad on the morning of the Lord’s Day, 6th December 1829, to be welcomed along the route by a Major Taylor, who had provided for them a small house, enough for their needs, attached to his own house, and he allowed them to live there rent-free.

But life in Baghdad was a time of very great trial. The missionary work began, and an elementary school was opened, using the Bible in the local languages as the primary reading text. Groves employed his medical abilities to reach out in friendship to the locals. The local people were Muslims, some more helpful than others. In his memoirs, Groves recorded that the ‘moolah’ assigned to Kitto would converse with him, and read with him, but refused to translate for him, on the basis that he would do nothing to help spread the Christian religion, or to share any form of Islamic knowledge with an ‘infidel.’ On the family front, the Groves family were blessed with the arrival of a baby girl.

The mission was largely unproductive though, and was seriously hindered by a series of natural and human disasters.
* The heat of the city was unbearable, forcing them to sleep outdoors on the roof of the house.
* Civil war broke out in Baghdad, and the city suffered siege conditions, floods, food shortages, and

as a result of the deprivation, plague. Pfander was only to remain for a limited time, and Groves began to worry that he and Mary and Kitto would be left without Christian counsel and friendship.

In September1830 a party of brethren left Dublin for Baghdad, travelling by ship to Spain, overland across Spain, then by ship across the Mediterranean to Palestine. The party included Dr Edward Cronin, some of his family members and others, including an anglican, Mr Francis (Frank) Newman – the brother of John Henry Newman, later to become Cardinal Newman. The objective was to work with Groves on the medical and educational side of the mission, and they also brought with them a printing press, transported in two large heavy crates!

In 1831 cholera struck with a vengeance. Groves speaks of the peaceful serenity of his wife as she contracted the illness, and faced death. He wrote in his memoirs, “All the conversation of my dear dying wife for these twelve months past, but especially as our difficulties and trials increased, was on the peace she enjoyed with the Lord … her assurance of her Lord’s love never forsook her, even after she felt herself attacked by the plague. …when she thought on her Lord’s love, she was confident in his graciousness.” (Groves, F. 1869, p.146)

It was that plague that claimed the life of Mary Groves in 1931, and also the life of their recently born daughter. Groves himself survived the illness, but the work in Baghdad was in tatters; lives devastated by so many deaths, buildings destroyed by floods, the school depleted in terms of numbers of pupils and teachers. The Dublin party remained in Baghdad after Grove’s own departure for India in 1833, but the area was hit by plague twice, and the Irish team decided to abandon the work, and return home. Cronin left first, then the others, and by the end of 1834 nothing of the Baghdad mission remained, despite the fact that Groves had written several times to other missions agencies pleading for help.

In 1834 Groves was invited to visit India. A British army colonel, Arthur Cotton had visited Baghdad, and he expressed an interest in meeting Groves. Cotton had read Groves’ book, ‘Christian Devotedness’ and had been challenged by it. Cotton was sure that the work at Baghdad was at such a low ebb that Groves’ talents really could be better used elsewhere. India had recently opened up for the gospel, thanks to a law enacted at Westminster, which granted a new charter to the British East India Company, and included a clause encouraging missionary activities in all of the regions of India that were under the company’s jurisdiction. How different from modern-day legislation passed by the so-called ‘mother of parliaments.’

Cotton was sure that Groves should go and visit the mission field and find out if there was an opportunity to expand the work. And Groves was keen to go, remembering that his initial call to missionary work, back when he was at school, in the church at Farnham was to India.

So they sailed from Baghdad down the Euphrates, into the Persian Gulf and to India. Another chapter in Norris’s life had begun, and in our next podcast we’ll find out how the Lord blessed and prospered His work in that spiritually needy land.



Despite his late-life despondency with the self-perceived failure of his missionary efforts, Norris Groves left a legacy behind. 

  • In personal philanthropy. Groves was unselfish in his help of others.  John Kitto was an example.  Kitto, the son of a drunken Cornish stonemason was living in the work house when he first came to Groves’ notice.  Without speech and hearing he was destined for an impoverished life, except that Norris Groves befriended him, and offered him work as a dental assistant, providing him with lodgings.  At that home, Kitto became impressed with Groves’ personal devotion, and when the opportunity arose to accompany him on his mission to Baghdad, acting as home-schooler to the missionary’s two boys, Kitto accepted the challenge.  He wrote on his observations along the way, carefully detailing the topography and nature.  In 1844 the University of Giessen conferred upon him the degree of DD, and in 1850 he received a pension for life from the Government. He married and worked as a author; his best known work being his ‘Pictorial Bible.’  Kitto later summed up his life:

I perhaps have as much right as any man that lives, to bear witness that there is no one so low but that he may rise, no condition so cast down as to be really hopeless, and no privation which need, of itself, shut out any man from the paths of honourable exertion or from the hope of usefulness in life. I have sometimes thought that it was possibly my mission to affirm and establish these great truths.”  (

  • In Missiology.  Grove’s concept of missions was unique in its day; to go to a foreign mission field without the financial backing of a denomination or missions agency.  He was determined to live and work by faith, depending only on the Lord for his survival.  He became ‘the Father of Faith Missions,’ a missiology later adapted by  Hudson Taylor, CT Study, Watchman Nee and Amy Carmichael, among many others.
  • In the Open Brethren.   Groves’ influence on the Open Brethren is substantial. For example:-

1 SCRIPTURE.  One of the characteristics of all these early brethren was their high view of scripture.  All of them had a passion to understand and to obey the written word of God – even if that meant that they reached a somewhat unusual view on eschatology.  John Kitto wrote in a letter:

You ask… is Mr Groes an Arminian, a Calvinist,a papist a Lutheran?  He is one of those singular characters, a Bible Christian and a disciple of the meek and lowly Jesus; not nominally, but practically and really such.  A man so devotedly, so fervently attached to the Scriptures, I never knew before…  (Groves, F. 1869, p.5.)

Kitto’s testimony of Groves indicated two aspects of Grove’s character,  His distancing of himself from denominationalism and his devotion to the Scriptures.  I have seen this in some of the modern brethren too, – I have in mind here two of the K-G Brethren, both of whom spent much time in Biblical Study, and were, at least to me, kindness personified, both in business, and in welcoming me to their homes. 

2 BAPTISM.  The modern Open Brethren are credobaptist while the Exclusives are to some extent paedobaptist, or at least, believe in ‘household baptism.’  Could this difference be as a result of the divergent views of Darby and Muller/Groves?  If so, then the influence of Groves on modern brethrenism is significant.

3 CALVINISM.  I am surprised to learn that most of the earlier brethren including Darby and Groves held to a Calvinistic soteriology.  The reason for my surprise is simply that most modern open brethren deny Calvinistic doctrine, yet Grove’s conversion has a distinctly Calvisitic tone.  Perhaps the modern equivalent of a Norris Groves would be a John MacArthur?

Wikipedia:  Most of the Brethren pioneers such as Groves, Darby, and Muller, were convinced Calvinists. By the 1930s, however, a strong Arminian strain developed in many parts of the Brethren movement, especially in North America.  Today, it is common to find Brethren advocates for both theological systems, with the caveat that even those who embrace Arminianism in the main will still generally hold to the fifth point of Calvinism, which Brethren call the Eternal security of the believer[13] — the doctrine that it is impossible for a true Christian to lose his or her salvation. Even today, it is rare to find a Brethren preacher or an official Brethren publication questioning this doctrine.   (


Adams, N. 1972th, ‘Goodbye, Beloved Brethren’ Impulse Books, Aberdeen. 

Burnham, J.D. 2004, ‘A Story of Conflict’ Paternoster, Milton Keynes. 

Coad, F.R. 1968, ‘A History of the Brethren Movement’ Paternoster, Exeter. 

Dann, R.B. 2004, ‘Father of Faith Missions’ Authentic Paternoster, Waynesborough. 

Groves A.N. 1825 ‘Christian Devotedness’  Nisbet, London. 

Groves, F. 1869, ‘Memoir of Anthony Norris Groves’ Nisbet, London. 

Ironside, H.A. 2016 ‘A Historical Sketch of the Brethren Movement’ Solid Books. 

Neatby, W.B. 1901, ‘A History of the Plymouth Brethren’ Hodder & Stoughton, London  

Pickering, H.Y. 2nd Ed. ‘Chief Men Among the Brethren’ P&I, London and Glasgow. 

Rhenius J 1841 ‘Memoir of CTE Rhenius by his Own Son’. Nesbit, London.

Wilson, B.R. (Ed.) 1968 ‘Patterns of Sectarianism’ Heinemann, London.

From → History, The Brethren

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