Der Bruder, dessen Todestag sich heute zum 150. Mal jährt, gehört sicher nicht zu den bekanntesten in der Geschichte der Brüderbewegung; tatsächlich sind sich die Historiker noch nicht einmal über seinen Namen einig: Während Brewer1, Rowdon2 und Ouweneel3 ihn Griffith nennen, heißt er bei Beattie4, Langford5, Embley6, Coad7, Rawson8 und Stunt9 Griffiths. Diese Diskrepanz findet sich allerdings auch bereits in zeitgenössischen Nachrufen: Das Hereford Journal schreibt Griffith,10 die medizinische Fachzeitschrift The Lancet dagegen Griffiths.11 Selbst das offizielle britische Testamentsregister Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration kann sich nicht entscheiden und bietet beide Formen: „GRIFFITH otherwise GRIFFITHS“.12
Wer war John Griffith(s)? Geboren wahrscheinlich 1799 in Wrexham (Wales),13 absolvierte er ein Medizinstudium und machte sich ab 1825 in Hereford einen Namen als talentierter Chirurg. Als 1837 durch die Predigt Percy Francis Halls eine Brüdergemeinde in Hereford entstand, schloss Griffith(s) sich ihr an und wurde bald einer der „führenden Brüder“ am Ort. Brewer schreibt über ihn:
Dr. John Griffith, the leading surgeon of the city, who threw open his heart, his house and his purse; he was an energetic man, full of love for the Gospel – would converse with his patients on their soul’s greatest need, keeping Capt. Rhind’s pictures of the Tabernacle on his consulting room table, explaining and enforcing the different teachings of the various parts. Some of his more wealthy visitors were offended and left, but soon returned because of his professional ability, so that his faithfulness was ultimately to him no loss.14
For long years the good doctor was remembered as the great tract distributor, often throwing the Gospel messages out of his carriage as he went his rounds, which were by no means confined to the city. Of a kind and benevolent disposition, Dr. Griffiths had a hospitable heart of love for the people of God, and it is said that whenever a gifted brother came along he would invite brethren to breakfast to meet him; and as on Lord’s Day many would come long distances – some walking miles for the purpose of remembering the Lord in the breaking of bread – the doctor would have a cold luncheon laid out in a large room in his house for any – rich and poor alike – who cared to partake of it.15
Leider kam es 1849 zu Spannungen zwischen Griffith(s) und Hall:
Capt. Hall was a deep thinker and teacher, not having much fellowship with the direct Gospel testimony to the world, for he was not an evangelist of late years at least.16 Dr. Griffith on the contrary was an evangelist, and did not so much care for the deep teaching and wonderful expositions of Capt. Hall. The one was all for teaching the saints, the other was all for testimony to the world. Hence a growing coolness grew up between them, which culminated in an open rupture. Capt. Hall retired with his followers, and met in St. Owen Street, afterwards connecting the meeting with Mr. Darby’s.17
Griffith(s) und die urspüngliche Gemeinde in Hereford blieben in Gemeinschaft mit den Offenen Brüdern (denen sich auch Hall nach der Sufferings-of-Christ-Kontroverse 1866 wieder anschloss, allerdings nicht mehr in Hereford, sondern in Weston-super-Mare).
Ab 1852 begann Griffith(s)’ Gesundheit nachzulassen, sodass er seine berufliche Tätigkeit einschränken musste. Er starb am 2. Juni 1866, heute vor 150 Jahren, in seinem Haus in der St. Owen Street in Hereford. Das Hereford Journal widmete ihm eine Woche später folgenden Nachruf:18
DEATH OF JOHN GRIFFITH, ESQ., SURGEON. – The medical profession has lost one more of its most valued and skilled surgeons of this city. Mr. Griffith was the senior practitioner, and kept up a lucrative practice, extending from its commencement over 40 years. He succeeded his esteemed uncle, Mr. Griffith, who was Mayor of Hereford. The deceased has for a lengthened period suffered from physical debility, but while in good health he led a very active life, taking a leading part in most of the religious controversies of former days. He was a leading member of the Hereford Protestant Association, and was selected as one of a deputation to the Roman Catholics of Ireland. Some 25 years back he seceded from the evangelical party in the Church, and joined a new sect then springing into maturity, and familiarly designated the Plymouth Brethren. A diversity of opinion, either in discipline or doctrine, caused this new branch of dissent to sever themselves into two divisions. That difference of faith was never healed, and they in a turning point of time became separated and formed two “rooms,” where their tenets are regularly and systematically inculcated. We believe that Mr. Griffith, with his wonted energy, lent his purse and influence to the congregation which settled at the Barton. He had a peculiar habit of having long devoted himself to the distribution of religious tracts. We doubt if any single-handed gentlemen, at his own cost, ever gave so many thousand books and leaflets to the people in the highways and byeways as the deceased. His death occurred on Saturday last, to the regret of numerous friends, who knew how to appreciate his work and “labour of love.” The deceased was not married.19 The funeral took place on Thursday at the burying ground at the Barton, when a large congregation was present, the service being conducted by Mr. Mansel20 and Mr. Seward21.
Der Nachruf in The Lancet vom 30. Juni 1866 hebt naturgemäß mehr Griffith(s)’ medizinische Leistungen hervor, vermittelt aber ebenfalls einen Eindruck von seinem Charakter:22
Mr. John GRIFFITHS commenced practice in Hereford in the year 1825. Having passed his examinations four years previously, and made what was in those days the professional “grand tour,” he was appointed surgeon to the Hereford Infirmary, which post he held until 1839, and was specially noted for his operative skill. His health failed in 1852, and from that time he restricted his practice. During the latter years of his life he refused to see any new patients, though many old friends continued to avail themselves of his professional services to the last. He finally sank from renal disease, but never thoroughly rallied after an operation for calculus in the spring. He died on the 2nd of June, in the sixty-seventh year of his age. He was of an eminently original mind, somewhat brusque in manner, and a man of many whims; but his kindness of heart, his practical charity, and his unswerving rectitude, together with eminent professional skill, which gained him great local repute, will long cause his name to be remembered and respected.