BESSER, WILHELM FRIEDRICH: German preacher and theological writer; b. at Warnstedt, in the Harz, Sept. 27, 1816; d. near Dresden Sept. 26, 1884. He studied at Halle under Gesenius and Tholuck (1837), then went to Berlin, where he was influenced by Neander and Twesten, but still more by Hengstenberg, Otto von Gerlach, and others. He returned to Halle in 1838 as secretary to Tholuck, but a year later went as private tutor to the house of Major von Schenkendorf at Wulkow near Puppin. This had a decisive influence on his life, through his intercourse there with a persecuted Lutheran pastor, a guest in the house, who had such an effect on him that, at his ordination in 1841 as pastor at Wulkow, he refused to sign the Union formula except with the reservation that the Union related to common ecclesiastical organization without prejudice to the authority of the Augsburg Confession. In 1845 he withdrew his subscription, and after long negotiations was deprived of his office in 1847. Connecting himself with the Lutheran Church of Prussia, he became pastor of Seefeld in Pomerania, and zealously supported the movement to obtain equal rights for the Lutherans with the Union. In 1853 he was called to assist Graul in the direction of the Evangelical Lutheran mission-house; but the strain of continuous teaching was not suited to his vivacious and impulsive nature, and sharp controversies broke out over the then burning question of the Indian castes, so that he returned willingly to pastoral life in 1857, becoming minister of Waldenburg in Silesia and also (1864) a member of the Lutheran superior council of Breslau. Failing health compelled him to resign his offices at Easter, 1884. His Bibelstunden, which he began to write in 1843 and continued at intervals till he had covered most of the New Testament, have had a salutary influence far beyond Germany. The list of his minor writings is a long one, and includes a number of controversial tractates against what he thought a hollow and deceiving compromise, popular biographies, devotional works, and sermons.
Bibliography: A sketch of Besser's life appears in his Predigten und Predigtauszüge, Breslau, 1885. His autobiography (uncompleted) was continued to the year 1850 by Greve, Aus Bessers Leben, in Gotthold, year 20, 1894-1895, and completion is promised; cf. ALKG, 1884, pp. 1036-39.