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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

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.

Groves had learned of the need of people in Asia, in Persia (modern Iraq/Iran) and India, and in 1829 began a long and arduous journey to Baghdad. Groves believed that a man called to ministry should obey the call without any appeal for funds, but simply trusting in God, believing that the God who called him would provide for his needs.  Needless to say this was not welcome news to the Thompson family, and Mary’s father was enraged by the 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 prior canvassing for financial backing, travelling with his wife and two sons, Henry and Frank, on a small yacht to St.Petersburg in Russia and then overland to Baghdad. The journey took six months.   Norman Adams wrote:  

Pioneer of missionary work abroad was Norris Groves, who had been trained as a dentist on Plymouth.  Groves who was also the brother-in-law of George Muller, undertook an incredible journey with his wife and family from London, through Russia into Persia and on to Baghdad in 1829.  They crossed the Caucasus mountains with a band of British evangelists and reached Baghdad six months out from London.’  (Adams, 1972, p.30). 

The yacht ‘Osprey’ sailed from Gravesend on 12th June 1829, with the Groves family on board, supplemented by Groves’ 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 a safe journey, and with went her four servants. Lydia became unwell during the sea leg of the journey and was advised to return to England. 

The land journey was horrendous.  The road was dangerous, often little more than dirt tracks, thieves and robbers took their toll on the larger caravans with which they travelled for safety, 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.  The missionary group were determined to get to their destination, even though they were warned of the dangers, and they trusted on the Lord fully for their safe arrival.  Yet they found much encouragement along the way, meeting and enjoying fellowship with Christians of many denominations and nationalities.  In particular it is worth mentioning Dr & Mrs William Glen, whom they encountered in Astrakhan.  Dr Glen was translating the Old Testament into Farsi, and was very dedicated to his work.  Groves and Glen became great friends, and although they found theological differences, they enjoyed a warm brotherly relationship.  Groves memoir states: 

On the 23rd they left Astrakhan, “deeply impressed” says Mr Groves, “with all the kindness and Christian love which had been manifested to us by the dear Glens, and with a hope that we may meet again, if to be the Lord’s will, to renew many of those communications we had together, when experience have either confirmed or corrected them.”  (Groves, F 1869, p62)

Further along the route they enjoyed the hospitality and fellowship 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.  Again Groves wrote of this blessing in his journal: 

“On our arrival at Shushee we received the most affectionate and brotherly welcome from the missionaries.  Five dearer brethren I have never met. …As we walked along I was telling Zaremba that I had been praying that the Lord would not let me go on alone, but would let him or one of the other brethren go with me.” (Groves, F 1869, p66)

It seems that this suggestion was well received by the German missionaries, and they explained that Pfander Had been due to travel to Baku, for additional language studies. 

“It was then proposed that dear Pfander should accompany us instead of going to Baku.  This the Lord has most graciously answered my prayer and given me a dear brother who has the same views and the same objects with myself and who also understands Turkish, one who will be a great comfort sand a medium of communication with the people around us.” (Groves, F 1869, p67)

However, although the missionary group had now gained another traveller, they were destined to lose Charlotte Taylor at Tabriz, where she met a gentleman working for the British east India Company, a Mr Nesbitt, a committed Christian, with hopes of starting a school at Tabriz, remained behind and later married him.  Mr Nesbitt made a handsome financial contribution to Grove’s costs, but it still saddened the missionary that he had lost a valuable worker.  Groves came to the conclusion that young unmarried women were not suitable missionary material!  



The travellers reached Baghdad on the morning of Sunday, 6th December 1829, to be welcomed along the route by Major Taylor, who had provided for them a small house, suffice to for their needs, attached to his own house, and granted it to them rent-free.  Groves wrote: 

“God had put into our hands, all that we could desire.”  (Groves, F 1869, p75)

If the journey was arduous, life in Baghdad was also a time of very great trial.  Then 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.’ (Groves, F. 1869, p.92). The family were blessed with the arrival of a baby girl.   

The mission was largely unproductive though, and was greatly hampered by a series of natural and human disasters.  The natural heat of the place 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. But 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, his mother, his infant daughter Minnie and his sister Nancy, Mr J Parnell and Mr F Newman, Mr Hamilton (an Irish schoolmaster) and others.  The objective was to work with Groves on the medical ad educational side of the mission, and they also brought with them a printing press, 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 devastating by so many deaths, buildings destroyed by the 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 Moreland the team decided to abandon the work, and return to Ireland.  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, Col. Arthur Cotton had visited Baghdad, and expressed an interest in meeting Groves, whose book, ‘Christian Devotedness’ he had previously read, and been challenged by.    Cotton was sure that the work at Baghdad was at such a low ebb that Groves’ talents could could be better used elsewhere.  India had recently opened up for the gospel, thanks to a law enacted at Westminster, granting a new charter to the British East India Company, including a clause encouraging missionary activities in the regions under the company’s jurisdiction.  Cotton was sure that Groves should go and visit the mission field and find out if there was an opportunity to expand the work.  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.  They sailed from Baghdad down the Euphrates, into the Persian Gulf to India.

The journey across India saw Groves visit Bombay, Tinnevelly, Trichinopoly, Ceylon, Madras, then through the Ganges Valley to Calcutta.  In every region he stayed with local Christians of many denominations, and enjoyed their fellowship and took opportunities to share his ecclesiology and his eschatological views.  Unsurprisingly, these were not always welcomed!    Dann comments:

Somewhat to his surprise, Groves encountered resistance to his unconventional views  (

In Bombay for example, Groves stayed with a group of Church of England missionaries, yet despite the fellowship and hospitality they extended to him, they declined his offer of pulpit supply, agreeing only to let him bring a report of the Lord’s work in Baghdad.  Groves wrote:

“In Bombay I generally met with kindness, but there was a evidently a fear that prevented their wishing me to minister; they would have had me preach about ourselves, and our work and I had no heart for either, all I could say of ourselves was that we desired to follow Christ and our work was awaiting the Lord’s pleasure.”  (Groves, 1869, p230.)

Groves didn’t take no for an answer.  He boarded a boat and preached to the sailors and later said,

“I exercised my little ministry without preaching publicly, and if the Lord allow the truth I placed before His people in private to have free course, it may do more to prepare the was of the UNFETTERED gospel in India that any preaching they could allow among any sect.” (Groves 1869 p.230)

At Tinnevelly, Groves met Dr Karl Rhenius (1790-1838).  Rhenius was a German Lutheran pastor, working for CMS, a gifted linguist who translated the New Testament into Tamil, and so established English-Tamil translation methods that are still in use today.  At the Tinnevelly mission Rhenius had established a lively work, with little meetings taking place in the surrounding villages, and Groves was encouraged with the eagerness of the people there, with many seeking Christian instruction.  

“The other evening, she we had a little meeting at a village, eight families of the Maravars, or thief caste (The Maravars were not in fact ‘thieves’ although their myth of origin did contain stories about a brigand class, perhaps akin to the Ulster Scots Reivers.  Rather they were a high caste, part of the tribal makeup of present day Tamil Nadu.  Wikipedia: Thevar “literally means celestial beings or divine-natured people”) came desiring Christian instruction; and in the village which sent for a teacher there were twenty-five families ready to submit to Christian instruction; in fact, in every direction they are anxious to hear.  (Groves 1869 p.256)

Also at Tinnevelly we see an example of Grove’s missiology being worked out in the ministry of Pastor Rhenius.  Rhenius had established his little meetings under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society in England, but these meetings bore no resemblance to Anglican churches.  Furthermore, Rhenius, working with three co-workers, seeing the need for pastoral care over the churches had been training local men and ordaining them as catechists and pastors.  The newly installed Anglican Bishop at Calcutta reminded Rhenius that he had no right as a non-Anglican to be ordaining clergy, and that such ordinations were invalid.  Rhenius was invited to travel to England to petition the church authorities, but Groves counselled him to remain in India, lest in his absence the flock would suffer, and instead to write a defence.  Rhenius wrote two papers, one of which was entitled, ‘Union of Christians, an Address to all Christians, especially to all Ministers of the Gospel.’  The situation worsened when six newly trained catechists refused to allow the bishop to ordain them, after which CMS dismissed Rhenius, and demanded that he leave Tinnevelly completely.  He did so, but was petitioned by a group of the catechists to return.  He did, without support from any missionary organisation, depending only upon the Lord to supply his needs, putting the principles of Groves’ ‘Christian Devotedness’ into practice.  Rhenius’ return to Tinnevelly precipitated a division in the assemblies there, and the schism between him and the CMS was never healed.

As Groves drew near to the end of his exploratory travels around India he was encouraged and impressed with the openness to the gospel he found, in contrast to the barrenness of Baghdad.  In July 1834 Groves’ fourteen month tour of India came to an end when he boarded a ship at Calcutta, bound for England, hoping with the Lord’s help to raise a band of like minded workers who would come to India and preach the Gospel. 


Groves on Deputation in England.

Groves travelled to Britain by ship, reaching Scotland a week after the Christmas of 1834, and travelling overland to England, where joined by his brother-in-law George Muller of Bristol, and determined to work as quickly as possible to raise his band of workers, he travelled to Germany and Switzerland, with Muller as interpreter.  He regarded that journey as success awful, and having recruited a number of willing helpers. He returned to England, to preach, challenge about the gospel need in India and renew acquaintances with the Brethren.   He would have received a warm welcome from Mr Robert Chapman at Barnstable, and from Muller and Craik at Bristol, but what of Darby, who by this time had run into serious disagreement with the Bethesda assembly at Bristol, and with Muller, Craik and Chapman.  

He visited Kitto, now married and living in London, and was pleased to see that his friend, who had had such a dismal start in life was now so settled and happy, although he expressed some disappointment that Kitto’s own personal Devotedness had waned somewhat, from when they had been in Baghdad together.  Perhaps Kitto himself could explain, and in his explanation we will see something of the persuasive personality of Norris Groves:

I have had the pleasure,” he writes, “of seeing Mr Groves several times since his return.  I confess to you that there are many of his views in which I do not concur nearly so much s I seemed myself to do, while I was under his strong influence, which I think he exerts over those who are in near connexion with him, through the warmth and energy he throws into his opinions; whether this amounts from a more dispassionate view of the same subject, or from the greater ascendancy of worldly principles in my mind, I cannot venture to determine; Mr Groves would think the latter, you perhaps the former.”    (Groves 1869 p.356)

While back in England, Groves remarried.  He had met Harriet Baynes in 1827 while living in Exeter, and while in India after Mary’s death had corresponded with her, and had even proposed marriage by letter.  At that time Harriet had declined, but now she agreed. (It may be worth noting that in the intervening time, Harriet had suffered an accident that had greatly marred her looks.  It would be cynical to suggest that her marriage prospects were now greatly diminished and a proposal from a widower might not be such a bad prospect after all.  But by all accounts they were both happily married, and there is no doubt that Harriet was a godly woman, with a great knowledge of the scriptures).  Mrs Groves describes the marriage:

On his return from the continent. Mr Groves was married to Harriet, the third daughter of Gen. Baynes, late of Woolbrooke, Sidmouth.  She had been greatly indebted to him, both for Christian instruction and help in the things of God, before he went out to Baghdad.  The event took place at Malvern, on the 25th of April 1835.  The hand of the Lord was very apparent in overcoming, in answer to his prayer, many obstacles and ordering circumstances so as to bring this union about in a very remarkable manner.  (Groves 1869 p.356)

At the end of that same year the missionary party assembled at Bristol to say their final farewells, a number from Germany and Switzerland and from England.  They had a valedictory service hosted by Craik and Muller, and later travelled to Milford Haven, accompanied once again by their friend and supporter Bessie Paget.  They’re they waited for over a month for the shop to arrive from Scotland, the East Indiaman ‘Perfect,’ but when she arrived they found her well stocked with provisions from well wishers and the voyage paid for by an Indian benefactor, who had contributed £200.  The winds finally turned favourable in March 1836, and the missionaries were on their way, arriving three month later at Madras, landing through stormy waves by tender.  Groves was back in India.


The Indian Mission.

If Groves thought that he would be well received back in Madras he was mistaken.  Although he had enjoyed warm support and a welcome on his previous visit, a lot had changed on his return.  The split between Rhenius and the CMS, following the installation of the new Bishop of Calcutta had alienated the expat British community, who were sympathetic with the CMS position.  Groves had devised a plan, to set up a dental practice, serving the ex-pat British and European community, while he ministered and preached to them, but that plan was now doubtful to say the least.  Instead many pulpits were employed to preach and teach against his doctrinal ideals and warn others to avoid him.  

Further discouragement came from among the brethren themselves.  Cronin and Parnell had arrived in India, now that the mission in Baghdad had been aborted, and had found that Groves had travelled to England without informing them, and worse still, without his two sons, who were still in their care, and Parnell was particularly disappointed with this.  (In Groves’ defence, he attributed this to the slowness of the post between India and Baghdad). Later the news of the growing tension between Darby and B W Newton reached them; Darby had also become very critical of Groves, and Cronin in particular was supportive of Darby.  So the relationship with Groves, who had sided with his brother in law George Muller of Bristol, grew very strained.  The original missionary band was falling apart.  In 1837 Cronin and Parnell departed for Britain.  

His support base was declining too.  Months after the return to India, Groves and his missionary team hadn’t had any correspondence from England, and no financial support had been forthcoming for Bowden and Beer, two of the brethren working in Godavari, and learning the local language.  Their first letter was from a supporter who wrote to inform Groves that he was withdrawing his help, citing as his reason a strange dispensationalist opinion that the church is not called to preach to the heathen, rather this will be the responsibility of the Jews after the ‘rapture’ in a coming dispensation.  Already the dispensationalism that had marked the prophetic meetings of the Powerscourt Conferences and which had been a uniting feature of the brethren since first days was now becoming a source of division among them.  They developed differences of opinion on the specific events of the end times, and on how to understand and interpret the divergent specific dealings of God with the Jews and the Believers in Jesus.  Groves too was suffering from lack of support, which was bring him close to despair, which was only lifted when their band was strengthened by a new addition, George baynes, his brother-in-law, who visited the family, joined with them in worship and then resigned his army commission to join the work.  Other military men followed his example.

In India, Groves continued to labour until his failing health prevented him.  Groves’ personal circumstances were changing too.  When he had returned to India he was aged forty one, and his family had expanded as his wife Harriet had delivered a new baby another boy, George. In 1848 he temporarily returned to England, and at that stage was even considering whether his future ministry should not be at home.

When I look back on all the Lord’s goodness to me since I came here, and all my unfaithfulness to Him, the small measure in which I had practically realised those holy principles which my heart so fully owns, how amazing does his love appear which has, notwithstanding borne with me, and delivered me from the multitude of my troubles!  I sometimes think I may find some place for my service at home; but this will depend much more on the measure of communion I may be able to maintain with God in my own soul, than on anything else.  (Groves 1869 p.454). 

During his time in Madras Groves met and befriended many young Indian Christian workers, encouraging them and mentoring them.   Among their number was John Arulappan, who adopted and closely followed his principles.    Groves placed a great deal of responsibility with Arulappan, encouraging him to teach in the school, and to act as interpreter when Groves was preaching.  Arulappan and another Indian brother, Andrew also met with little groups of Indian believers to break bread with them, and there was interest aroused as, being ‘unordained’ they presided at the Lord’s Table, a task formerly only seen to be done by ordained men.  This gave them opportunity to preach and teach on their ecclesiastical position, and others came to a similar view.  The little groups of Christians to whom Arulappan ministered later became part of the indigenous Brethren movement in India.  Arulappan lived by faith while working among these assemblies, and his ministry principles, based on the teaching of Groves, became the foundation ecclesiology of his spiritual descendants.  


After eighteen years in India, Groves was beginning to take stock of his work and wondering whether his time in the sub-continent was drawing to a close.  He wrote in his memoirs:

“Dear Aroolappen, as also the Bowdens and Beers seem going on very nicely, and the Lord is owning their labours.  My own heart has often turned towards home, and I wait the Lord’s leisure to show me the way and the when.  The last twelve months have been darker, rather than clearing up; now things are apparently somewhat opening, but still by no means clear…”  (Groves 1869 p.468-9)

In fact Groves finally returned to England in 1852, when his health began to fail.  he had suffered pain throughout the month of January, and he and Harriet decided that he would return to England, while she would remain in India and work on.  He left Madras in August by steamship, arriving in England on 25th September and meeting with Muller and the brethren at Bethesda where he was welcomed with great joy.  Groves continued to preach, even as his health declined, and he died at the home of Mr and Mrs Muller on 20th May 1853.  Harriet Groves as unable to return home in time to be with her husband before he died, but was comforted that her family was by his bedside.  



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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