Friedrich Wilhelm Krummacher, perhaps the greatest preacher on the continent of Europe in the middle years of the nineteenth century, was born on 28 January 1796, at Mors, on the River Rhine, the first son of Friedrich Adolf Krummacher, a minister of the Reformed Church. When Friedrich was four, his father accepted a call to be Professor of Theology and Eloquence at the University of Duisburg, and it was in Duisburg that Friedrich spent his childhood years, up to the age of 13. In 1807 Friedrich’s father received a call to Kettwig on the Ruhr, where the family spent the next five years.
In his autobiography, Krummacher gives details of his father’s ministry and his own gradual advance in the knowledge of God in Christ. The first deep and enduring religious impression made on Friedrich was occasioned by the death of a relative. At this time an uncle said to Friedrich and his brother Emil: ‘Yes, dear young friends, as we all, so you too, must one day lie on a dying bed. We are born to die. See that you learn early to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, for without Him we are the most miserable of all creatures.’ These words made an impression which was never to be erased.
In 1811 Friedrich’s father was invited to become the superintendent of the Duchy of Anhalt-Bernburg, so the family moved once more, this time to the town of Bernburg on the banks of the Saale, in Saxony. During their first year there, they saw a large part of the ‘grand army’ of Napoleon pass on its march to Russia, ‘with imposing pomp and with an overbearing haughtiness as if already the whole world were subject to it’. Only a few months later the defeated remains of the army were in full retreat, ‘now reduced by the judgment of God which overtook them on the snowy plains of Russia to a few tattered fragments’, and Friedrich and his school-friends saw Napoleon himself pass in his carriage, not many months before his defeat at the Battle of Leipzig.
From 1815 to 1817 Friedrich attended the University of Halle. Most of the theological teaching was decidedly rationalistic. From Halle, Krummacher went on to Jena, where he spent two years. Some of Germany’s most distinguished theologians were teaching there at that time. While he was studying at Jena, Krummacher was influenced by a work of his father’s, The Spirit and Form of the Gospels, which helped to maintain a love of the truth in his own heart, despite the rationalistic atmosphere he was breathing. Soon after successfully passing his theological examination he was invited to become assistant preacher to the Reformed congregation at Frankfurt-on-Main, where he remained for nearly five happy years, 1819-23. Some of the friendships which he made there had a significant influence on him for the rest of his life.
From 1823 to 1825 Krummacher was pastor at Ruhrort, where he had a congregation which delighted him. After nine years of ministry at Barmen, Krummacher went on to Elberfeld, where his fame began to grow. So powerful in fact was his ministry in Elberfeld that his next post was as Court Preacher in Berlin. At Elberfeld, he believed, the preachers were borne up by the spiritual vigour of the people to a degree known nowhere else in Germany. There was, for a brief time, a mighty upsurge of evangelical fervour, in which Krummacher was a notable instrument. While he was minister at Elberfeld, during a visit to Bremen, Krummacher ‘threw the torch of war into the midst of the church life’ of Bremen by a sermon on Galatians 1 :8-9. Many rationalists concluded that he had them personally in mind, and a vehement controversy was ignited.
Still at Elberfeld, Krummacher received an invitation to take up a professorship in the theological seminary of Mercersburg, U.S.A. He felt led to decline the invitation, but recommended to the seminary a man who was to become a most distinguished church historian, Philip Schaff, then a student in Berlin. From his association with Krummacher, Schaff gives a vivid picture of the older man as a preacher:
‘Krummacher does not make a pleasing impression at first sight. He is not good looking. He is built like a lion, and his eloquence corresponds with his build. An imposing, strong figure, massive facial features, a wild confused head of hair, grey eyes, the man vanishes, so to speak, in the pulpit orator. The solemn bass voice which pours itself forth like thunder upon his congregation, the rushing torrent of his figures, the bold but controlled gestures, the tossing of the head from side to side, the contents of the sermon itself, which is always original and, clothed in splendid garb, unlocks the depths of sin and grace, now breaking to pieces the fabric of the old man and the pleasures of the world, now comforting and with magic softness, wooing to the source of salvation.’
In 1847 Krummacher was called to the pulpit of Trinity Church in Berlin, occupied, some years before, by Friedrich Schleiermacher. Here he found an atmosphere altogether different from the one he had enjoyed in western Germany. He was in close association with the most distinguished thinkers of his day, and describes them in his autobiography. Particularly delightful was his fellowship with the stalwart defender of the faith, the Hebraist, E. W. Hengstenberg, and the distinguished church historian, August Neander, at whose grave he later delivered the funeral oration. He could not fail to be aware, however, of the accelerating drift of the German church into infidelity and rationalism.
At a great meeting of the Evangelical Alliance held in Freemason’s Hall, London, in the summer of 1851, Krummacher read a paper on ‘The Religious State of Germany and Its Infidelity’. Despite the prevailing climate, he still held out hope regarding a turning of the tide against Germany’s rationalism. Sadly, this hope was not to be fulfilled.
So great was the influence of Krummacher throughout all Germany that he was called in 1853 to be the court chaplain at Potsdam, and here he remained until his death, sixteen years later. Krummacher was by many reckoned the greatest evangelical preacher in all Europe at that time. Philip Schaff wrote an eloquent tribute following Krummacher’s death on 19 December 1868. He spoke of him as ‘endowed with every gift that constitutes an orator, a most fertile and brilliant imagination, a vigorous and original mind, a glowing heart, an extraordinary facility and felicity of diction, perfect familiarity with the Scriptures, an athletic and commanding presence, and a powerful and melodious voice, which, however, in later years underwent a great change, and sounded like the rolling of the distant thunder or like the trumpet of the last judgment . . . He was full of the fire of faith and the Holy Ghost. In the pulpit he was as bold and fearless as a lion, at home as gentle and amiable as a lamb. Like all truly great men, he had a childlike disposition.’
Krummacher was the author of numerous books, perhaps the best-known of which are Elijah the Tishbite and The Suffering Saviour. The latter, a series of devotional meditations on the final scenes in the life of Christ on earth, was reprinted by the Trust in 2004.[From the Biographical Introduction to The Suffering Saviour]