Composer of the Month: August Crull

August Crull (1845–1923) was born in Germany but moved with his mother to the United States as a young boy following the death of his father. His mother remarried, and Crull began studying to enter the pastoral ministry at Concordia Seminary in 1862.

After graduating from the seminary, Crull shepherded congregations in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Grand Rapids, Michigan. He then returned to Concordia Seminary’s preparatory high school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he taught German.

Crull’s place in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is significant; he was the first major German-to-English translator of hymns for the Synod. The first English hymnal he published was the Hymn Book for the Use of Evangelical Lutheran Schools and Congregations (1879).

In total, Crull presented a collection of 400 hymns to the first convention of the General English Evangelical Lutheran Conference of Missouri and Other States (later called the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) in 1888. Sixteen of Crull’s translations appear in Lutheran Service Book.

Crull retired in 1915, and, after struggling with depression and mental illness, died eight years later, in 1923. Lutheran Service Book: Companion to the Hymns, Volume 2 includes this anecdote of Crull written by Professor Otto F. Hattstaedt:

In the hours of darkness, when his mind failed him, when he thought he had no faith, God had a loving eye on His servant, did not permit him to despair of His mercy, and finally released him of all earthly trials and tribulations by a peaceful death. No doubt we shall meet him again in glory, in the Heavenly Mansions.

“Jesus, I Will Ponder Now”

One of Crull’s best-known hymn translations in Lutheran Service Book is “Jesus, I Will Ponder Now” (LSB 440). Written by Sigismund von Birken in the 17th century, this hymn is beloved in many Lutheran churches during the season of Lent.

The first stanza of the hymn prepares the Christian for the week of our Lord’s Passion, beginning on Palm Sunday and culminating with Jesus’ death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday. This first stanza is often sung in congregations on Palm Sunday before the extended reading of Christ’s Passion:

 Jesus, I will ponder now

On Your holy passion;

With Your Spirit me endow

For such meditation.

Grant that I in love and faith

May the image cherish

Of Your suff’ring, pain, and death

That I may not perish.

“Oh, How Great is Your Compassion”

Among the hymn translations that show the depth of Crull’s theological understanding is “Oh, How Great Is Your Compassion” (LSB 559). Written by Johann Olearius in the 17th century, this hymn is often sung during the Common Time in the Church Year. Stanza three especially highlights Crull’s ability to take a German hymn text and translate it to English while maintaining its theological strength:

Firmly to our soul’s salvation

Witnesses Your Spirit, Lord,

In Your Sacraments and Word.

There He sends true consolation,

Giving us the gift of faith

 That we fear not hell nor death.

In light of Crull’s struggles with depression later in his life, many of his translations should bring comfort to the Christian experiencing mental anguish. Stanza four of the same hymn may especially be appropriate to the Christian in need:

Lord, Your mercy will not leave me;

Ever will Your truth abide.

Then in You I will confide.

Since Your Word cannot deceive me,

My salvation is to me

Safe and sure eternally.

This hymn, like so many of Crull’s translations, is anchored in the promise of Christ’s love and mercy for His people. Crull’s sure faith in the promises of Christ—the promises of His gifts in Word and Sacrament and of life everlasting for the believer—shine through in so many of his translations. His work and commitment to the Gospel are surely a blessing for the faithful even today.

To read more biographies and hymn commentaries from everyone who contributed to Lutheran Service Book, purchase the Companion to the Hymns below. 

Read the history

Picture of Nathan Grime
Written by

Nathan Grime

Nathan Grime is from Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a 2020 graduate of Hillsdale College, where he studied rhetoric, public address, and journalism. Nathan is the fifth and sixth grade teacher at Our Savior Lutheran School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Subscribe to all CPH Blog topics (Worship, Read, Study, Teach, and Serve)