Anthony Norris Groves was born at Newton Valence, in Hampshire, England, on February 1, 1795.
He studied dentistry and surgery, building a successful dentistry business in Exeter. In 1816, at the age of 21 he professed faith in Christ, but he is described as “a typical middleclass convert to evangelical High Church Anglicanism”. That same year he married his cousin, Mary Berthia Thompson.
Groves had a heart after God which was displayed in both his philanthropic interests and a growing desire to serve God on the mission field. In the ensuing years he came under the influence of Calvinistic teaching and came to a much stronger personal experience of faith.
Groves was impressed by the Bible’s teaching on possessions. He dedicated the whole of his property and the biggest part of his income to the Lord’s work.
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Groves communicated his convictions about possessions in a small booklet called ‘Christian Devotedness’, based on the Christ’s instruction in the Sermon on the Mount, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth”. Groves lived that message and argued that others need to take Christ’s words seriously.
That book had a profound impact on a young Prussian pastor who had settled in Britain, named George Mueller, who applied Groves’ insights to his own life of faith and in the establishing of his faith based orphanages. Mueller is remembered for his astounding confidence in God’s supply, rather than reliance on human sources of wealth. At least part of his amazing confidence came from the inspiration of A.N. Groves.
Groves had to delay fulfilling his call to missionary service, principally because of his wife. Mary was unsaved when he married her and she opposed Anthony’s desire to go to the mission field. It was thirteen years before the couple reached the mission field of modern Iraq.
Mary was eventually converted by the same influences which strengthened Grove’s faith – around the time of the birth of her third child – and she consented to being a missionary also. In 1825 Groves gave up his profession and business to pursue theological studies at Trinity College, Dublin. At that time he met and associated with John Nelson Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren. Groves’ new appreciation for the simple New Testament model of Christianity led him to give up his theological studies, stating that “ordination of any kind to preach the gospel is no requirement of Scripture”.
In 1827, when Groves withdrew from Trinity College, he expressed the ideas which define the early Brethren movement. “…we should come together in all simplicity as disciples, not waiting on any pulpit or minister, but trusting that the Lord would edify us together, by ministering as he pleased and saw good from the midst of ourselves.”
Groves and his wife, Mary, finally set out for Baghdad, with their two young sons and three Christian friends. The six month overland journey was perilous and took them through Russia and Persia. By December 6, 1829 they had arrived in Baghdad, which was at that time part of the old Turkish Islamic Ottoman Empire. Groves was the first Christian missionary to take to gospel to Baghdad since it fell to Islam centuries earlier. They had no financial backers and expected the Lord to meet their daily needs.
Groves’ sister married George Mueller. Both Groves and Mueller opposed Darby’s “tendency of domination” in the newborn Plymouth Brethren movement. Groves chose to emphasise “the love of Jesus … instead of oneness of judgement in minor things” (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 440).
With George Mueller, Groves became “a founding father of the Open Brethren” (Who’s Who in Christian History, page 294).
During the three years in Baghdad plague ravaged the city. Civil war had broken out, bringing siege and warfare. The city was also devastated by flood, typhoid and cholera. 60,000 of Baghdad’s 85,000 inhabitants died of the plague, including Mrs Groves, and their baby girl. Two thirds of the houses were swept away in floods.
Back in England in 1835 Groves re-married, to Harriet Baynes, and prepared for years of missionary service in India. “He sailed for Madras, and thenceforth in many places he ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Twelve Mighty Missionaries, by E. Enoch, page 37).
In India Groves returned to his dentistry profession, supporting himself as the Apostle Paul had done. Thus Groves is regarded by some (such as Robert Bernard Dann) as the Father of Faith Missions, as opposed to those who go to the field with the backing of a mission organisation.
After Groves’ first tour of the Indian missions he came to his own ideas about improving cross-cultural mission activity. Groves encouraged his Indian converts not to adopt western culture, but to apply the Bible directly to their culture, being Biblical and not cultural converts.
In 1842 Mr and Mrs Groves adopted a child of eight as daughter, “an orphan who was commended to their care by her father on his deathbed”. They undertook this charge as for the Lord. The girl came to faith in Christ at a young age, was very effective in her assistance to their ministry and was “in every way, as a beloved daughter”.
In 1852 illness forced Groves to return to England, where he died at the age of 58, in the home of George Mueller on 20 May, 1853. Groves had given up his own earthly possessions, and so he had no home of his own to return to.
Groves did get to see his most promising Indian disciple, John Christian Arulappan, successfully build a network of churches based on Groves’ principles of missionary outreach. Grove’s innovations continued to be picked up and developed by others after his death.
It is to be noted that Groves’ conviction that we should not hoard possessions but trust the Lord to provide significantly impressed Mueller, who was then taken as an inspiration to Hudson Taylor, whose faith principles inspired many interdenominational faith missions.
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com