William Marrion Branham
Gordon Lindsay wrote, ‘The story of the life of William Branham is so out of this world and beyond the ordinary that, were there not available a host of infallible proofs which document and attest its authenticity, one might well be excused from considering it farfetched and incredible.” (Gordon Lindsay, A Man Sent From God, p9)
Thousands were converted or healed through Branham’s ministry. He reported that throughout his life he was guided by an angel who regularly communicated with him. He operated in what appears to be a genuine gift of ‘the word of knowledge’ which was gave him the power to discern people’s illnesses and thoughts. David Harrell reports of his popularity: “The power of a Branham service . . . remains a legend unparalleled in the history of the charismatic movement” (Harrell, p162). Branham’s accuracy is attested by Walter J. Hollenweger, who interpreted for him in Zurich and ‘is not aware of any case in which he was mistaken in the often detailed statements he made’ (Hollenweger, The Pentecostals, p354). The colourful Canadian minister, song leader and teacher, W. J. Ern Baxter, who accompanied him 4-8 months every year from 1947-1953, said he never heard his discernment inaccurate even once.
William Branham was born on April 6, 1909, to a fifteen year old mother and an eighteen year old father, in a small log cabin in the eastern Kentucky mountains. The family moved to a farm near Jeffersonville, Indiana, where they lived in abject poverty. ‘He always seemed to be a little different’ was how some peers described him. No wonder, as he experienced his first divine visitation when he was three years old. He had a vision that one day the family would move from Kentucky to live near a city called New Albany. The vision was fulfilled. At the age of seven he had another divine encounter. Under a poplar tree a strange wind shook its leaves, though there was no other wind that day. A voice spoke out of a small whirlwind and said, ‘Never smoke, never drink, nor defile your body, for when you are older there is a work for you to do.’ (Pearry Green, ‘The Acts of the Prophet,’ p40)
At nine he saw a vision of a bridge that spanned the Ohio River form Louisville to Jeffersonville.He saw a portion of the bridge collapse carrying sixteen men to their deaths. Twenty two years later this bridge was built – at the cost of the lives of sixteen men. When tempted to drink alcohol wind intensified around him until it frightened him and he ran off. (Pearry Green, ‘The Acts of the Prophet, p40-41)
At the age of nineteen, in 1927, he travelled to Phoenix where he worked for several years on a ranch and became a professional boxer from 1928-1933, before returning home to his family after his brother Edward, died. He was a dependable youth always living a lived a clean, moral, quiet life. (Harrel, All Things are Possible, p28). He began to question if he were ready for eternity and started to search after God. He was assured of God’s reality but didn’t know how to pray, so he wrote on a piece of paper ‘God help me,’ and pinned it on a tree!
Two years later while working for a gas company he was overcome with gas, became seriously ill and was hospitalised. The surgeons decided to remove his appendix and he requested a local anaesthetic and the presence of a Christian minister. During the operation he felt himself getting weaker and weaker, then he began to hear that familiar sound of wind rustling the leaves. This time the voice said, “I called you and you would not go.” The words were repeated three times. Then he replied, “Lord, if that is you, let me go back again to earth and I will preach your Gospel from the housetops and street comers. I’ll tell everyone about it!”
On his discharge from hospital he began to seriously seek the Lord, going from church to church waiting for an altar call – but none came. Then, by an old shed at the rear of his house he met with God. In his own words, as he spoke, ‘All at once there came a light in the shed and it formed a cross, and the voice from the cross spoke to me in a language I could not understand. It then went away. I was spellbound. When I came to myself again, I prayed, “Lord, if that is you, please come and talk to me again.’ …..I knew that something had appeared to me, and as I prayed it appeared again. Then it seemed to me that there had been a thousand pounds lifted from my soul. I jumped up and ran to the house and it seemed as though I were running on air. Mother asked, ‘Bill, what has happened to you?’ I replied, ‘I do not know but I surely feel good and light.’ I could not stay in the house any longer. I had to get out and run.’ (Gordon Lindsay, A Man Sent From God, p42)
On another occasion he was fully conscious when the light re-appeared to him and he was powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit. He heard of a group of people who believed in the laying on of hands. At one meeting someone laid hands upon him and he was instantly healed of a stomach problem that was caused by the former gas exposure. It was after this that he began to preach. (Pearry Green, ‘The Acts of the Prophet, p42-43)
He begins to preach
At the age of twenty-four he launched his career as a tent evangelist in Jeffersonville in June 1933. It was estimated that as many as 3,000 people attended the services in a single evening. Lindsay states that ‘at the baptismal service which followed the revival, some 130 people were baptized in water. It was at this time that a heavenly light appeared above him as he was about to baptize the seventeenth person.’ (Gordon Lindsay, A Man Sent From God, p43) This was seen by 4,000 who were sitting on the banks of the Ohio River, watching. (Pearry Green, ‘The Acts of the Prophet, p46)
After the revival, his supporters built a small meeting house in Jeffersonville which came to be called Branham Tabernacle. It flourished for a few years despite economic depression, an unpaid position and Branham’s estrangement from other local Baptists due to the young minister’s perceived mysticism.
During these harsh years, Branham attended a “Jesus only” Pentecostal assembly and was invited to preach. Subsequently, he was invited to conduct revivals in several Pentecostal churches. But their dubious social reputation dissuaded him. He later believed this was a mistake.
When the Ohio River flooded in 1937 he lost his beloved wife, Hope, to an illness and on the night of her funeral their second child of only nine months, Sharon Rose, died of a highly contagious spinal disease ((Pearry Green, ‘The Acts of the Prophet, p56-57). After that he worked at different lobs before becoming an Indiana game warden, the position he held when he received his famous angelic visit in 1946.
The Angelic Visitation – May 7th 1946
Let’s listen to Branham tell his own story here. ‘I must tell you of the angel and the coming of the Gift. I shall never forget the time, May 7th 1946…. while walking around the house under a maple tree, it seemed that the whole top of the tree let loose. It seemed that something came down through that tree like a great rushing wind…. That afternoon I went away to a secret place to pray and read the Bible. I became deep in prayer; it seemed that my whole soul would tear from me. I cried before God. I laid my face to the ground. I looked up to God and cried, “If you will forgive me for the way that I have done, I’ll try to do better. I’m sorry that I’ve been so neglectful all these years in doing the work you wanted me to do. Will you speak to me someway, God? If you don’t help me, I can’t go on.
Then alone in the night, at about the eleventh hour, I had quit praying and was sitting up when I noticed a light flickering in the room. Thinking someone was coming with a flashlight, I looked out of the window, but there was no one, and when I looked back, the light was spreading out on the floor, becoming wider. Now I know this seems very strange to you, as it did to me also. As the light was spreading, of course I became excited and started from the chair, but as I looked up, there hung that great star. However, it did not have five points like a star, but looked more like a ball of fire or light shining down upon the floor. Just then I heard someone walking across the floor, which startled me again, as I knew of no one who would be coming there besides myself. Now, coming through the light, I saw the feet of a man coming toward me, as naturally as you would walk to me. He appeared to be a man who, in human weight, would weigh about two hundred pounds, clothed in a white robe. He had a smooth face, no beard, dark hair down to his shoulders, rather dark-complexioned, with a very pleasant countenance, and coming closer, his eyes caught with mine. Seeing how fearful I was, he began to speak. “Fear not. I am sent from the presence of Almighty God to tell you that your peculiar life and your misunderstood ways have been to indicate that God has sent you to take a gift of divine healing to the peoples of the world. IF YOU WILL BE SINCERE, AND CAN GET THE PEOPLE TO BELIEVE YOU, NOTHING SHALL STAND BEFORE YOUR PRAYER, NOT EVEN CANCER.” Words cannot express how I felt. He told me many things, which I do not have space to record here. He told me how I would be able to detect diseases by vibrations on my hand. He went away, but I have seen him several times since then. He has appeared to me perhaps once or twice within the space of six months and has spoken with me. A few times he has appeared visibly in the presence of others. I do not know who he is. I only know that he is the messenger of God to me.’ Gordon Linday, A Man Sent From God, p76-78)
This was the turning point in his ministry. One of his members later recalled: ‘Now for a carnally-minded person this seemed absolutely impossible, as this boy was a humble worker, a very poor peasant type, and uneducated. But we had seen other visions come to pass, and he spoke this with such certainty, and openly declared it to everyone, that we were sure this would come to pass also.’
He hits ‘the Sawdust Trail’
As he was recounting to his congregation his angelic visitation in a Sunday evening service, Branham received a telegram from a minister friend, Robert Daugherty, urging him to come to St. Louis to pray for his sick daughter. The congregation collected sufficient money for the journey and with some borrowed clothes he departed for St. Louis.’ It was a journey that would take him around the world five times! Daugherty reported, ‘After he had prayed and called over her the Name of Jesus, our little girl was immediately healed.’ (Gordon Lindsay, A Man Sent from God, p86)
Branham returned to St. Louis ten months later to conduct a revival in Daugherty’s church, from June 14 to June 25, 1946. As he preached and prayed for the sick astounding miracles occurred and his reputation rapidly spread throughout the Pentecostal culture.
His next stop was the Bible Hour Tabernacle in Jonesboro, Arkansas, pastored by ‘Dad’ Humbard, the father of Rex Humbard. Gordon Lindsay later reported that ‘people gathered to the little city from twenty-eight states and Mexico, and some 25,000 people, it was estimated, attended the meeting…. It was said that for fifty miles there was no accommodation available.’ (Gordon Lindsay, A Man Sent from God, p93) Crutches were discarded, the blind saw and a woman was raised from the dead in an ambulance.
Among those who attended the Branham revival in Arkansas were some of the members of a Pentecostal church in Shreveport, Louisiana, pastored by building contractor Jack Moore, who invited Branham to his church to minister. The meetings in Shreveport ware a spectacular success and Branham asked Jack Moore and Young Brown of Shreveport to accompany him and help to manage his meetings. Accompanied by Moore, Branham left Shreveport, and held revivals in San Antonio, Phoenix, and in several cities in California. Moore persuaded his old friend, Gordon Lindsay, to visit Branham’s meetings in Sacramento and after the service Lindsay met with Branham and Moore.
Lindsay was able to open doors in the Assemblies of God and the other major Pentecostal groups for Branham’s ministry. Branham lacked organisational skills and jumped at the opportunity to have Lindsay on his team. As the group moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, W. J. Em Baxter, a colourful Canadian minister, song-leader and teacher also joined Branham’s team.
Oral Roberts visits Branham Campaign
In the spring of 1948 they conducted a huge campaign in Kansas City and were visited by a young minister who had just launched a ministry of his own, Oral Roberts. Although Roberts was always a man who avoided modelling himself on others, allowing God to develop his own ministry, he was greatly moved by what he saw and heard, quickly adding healing to his evangelistic meetings.
Branham takes time out
In the May 1948 the team were in Eugene, Oregon, when Branham announced that he was ill and unable to continue the ministry. This was not the best moment for Gordon Lindsay, Jack Moore, and Moore’s daughter Anna Jeanne, as they had just a begun publication of a magazine called ‘The Voice of Healing,’ to promote the Branham meetings.
Lindsay felt abandoned and he made a decision never again to exclusively promote Branham’s work. Despite the rumour and disappointment of the masses, the long demanding nights of ministry to the sick had undoubtedly taken their toll. In his last meetings he was reported to have been staggering from exhaustion. The gruelling regime had left Branham a physically broken man after only a year.
Nevertheless, in October of the same year, as suddenly as he had left from the field, Branham announced that he was returning to public ministry again. In late 1948 he made a successful tour which included meetings in California and at Alexander Dowie’s old church in Zion, Illinois. In November 1949, he returned to Shreveport to visit Jack Moore and Gordon Lindsay who promptly and graciously arranged to accompany him again. In January 1950, Moore, Lindsay, Ern Baxter, and F. F. Bosworth, joined Branham in Houston. The meetings grew, gathering as many as 8,000 people in a single service. It was here that the photograph of Rev. Branham with a supernatural halo of light above his head was taken.
The Ministry Goes Global
In April 1950, Branham, Moore, Lindsay, and Baxter made the first journey to Europe by a major American healing revivalist. They visited Finland, from where Donald Gee wrote, ‘Every service held in this hall witnessed a capacity crowd, while hundreds, and in some cases thousands, stood outside.’ (Donald Gee, Pentecost magazine, Sept. 1950, p8). Branham toured Norway and Sweden before returning home.
In the last three months of 1951 Branham held extraordinary meetings in South Africa chronicled in detail by Julius Stadsklev who wrote, “Oh, for words to express what He [God] did in South Africa those last three months of 1951. But human ability, even at its best, could never fully portray the signs and wonders which God wrought in our midst.”
Davjd du Plessis reported ‘I received a trans-ocean call from Brother Jacobs and my brother Justus du Plessis. They spoke from the Camp Grounds (Johannesburg) at 7 p.m. and told me that the police report over 3,000 cars parked for the Branham Meeting that evening, The Tabernacle has been enlarged to accommodate 10,000, but it still is too small.
Mighty Miracles have been done already in the Name of Jesus and Johannesburg has never before been shaken so wonderfully……Letters that came this week tell of marvellous cases of healing. One woman got out of her wheelchair and pushed it away herself. Others were healed of cancer. A little boy with a paralysed leg was healed overnight and the leg lengthened four inches. Some cases have been declared perfectly healed after medical examinations.’ (David du Plessis, Pentecost magazine, Dec. 1951, p8).
Julius Stadsklev reported on Branhams ministry in Durban, Sunday, Nov. 25, 1951: ‘Before the afternoon service started, reports were coming in of those who had received their healing in the morning service. It would be impossible to relate the many cases of definite healings which took place in Durban that day. As Brother Branham saw visions of healings he pointed out the people and told them that they were healed. There were those who stepped out of their wheelchairs and walked, some for the first time in many years. There was the deaf and dumb who smiled and made vocal sounds as they were able to hear for the first time in their lives. There were the little children who could not understand it all but who were now able to walk as they had never been able to before.
Truly this was a great day of spiritual awakening in the city of Durban. According to the police force fifty-five to sixty thousand people had come to hear the Gospel in addition to fifteen thousand who had been turned away from the gates for lack of room in the largest, finest race course in South Africa. God had spoken to the hearts of thousands and had caused them to come out to hear the Gospel and receive healing for both soul and body.’
F.F. Bosworth described his impressions of the Branham’s ministry: ‘Brother Branham is a channel for more than the mere gift of healing; he is also a seer as were the Old Testament Prophets. He sees events before they take place. I asked him, “What do you mean? How do you see them?” He replied, “Just as I see you: only that I know it is a vision.” Just as clearly as one sees material things around them, Brother Branham, while in prayer during the day, sees in vision some of the principal miracles before they take place that night. He sees some carried in on ambulance cots, or sitting in wheel chairs, and can describe how they look and how they are dressed, etc. While being shown these miracles in advance, he usually becomes, for the time, unconscious of things going on around him. Not once during the more than three years since receiving the gift have these revelations failed to produce perfect miracles exactly as he had already seen them in visions. At these times h e can say with absolute certainty, “Thus saith the Lord,” and he is never wrong. He told me last week that he simply acts out what he has already seen himself doing in the vision. The success of the phase of his ministry is exactly 100 percent.’
When the gift is operating, Brother Branham is the most sensitive person to the Presence and working of the Holy Spirit and to spiritual realities of any person I have ever known. Under the anointing, which operates his spiritual gifts, and when he is conscious of the Angel’s presence, he seems to break through the veil of the flesh into the world of Spirit, to be struck through and through with a sense of the unseen’.
Such results accompanied him wherever he conducted campaigns. In one 1950 meeting, “nine deaf mutes came in the prayer line, and all nine were healed” (Bosworth, Voice of Healing, January, 1950, p. 5).
Of Humble Spirit
Most impressive was his quiet mastery of audiences; he “seldom raised his voice or got excited or disturbed” (Harrell, All Things Are Possible, p. 38). His sermons were largely stories of personal experiences, and he had a trait that impressed his audiences and colleagues alike, an ‘outstandingly humble spirit.’ ‘There is nothing boisterous or arrogant about him,’ wrote an observer. ‘He is a meek and humble man . . . loved by all. No one begrudges him success or is envious of his great popularity’ (Harrell, All Things Are Possible, p. 39). This humility and a refusal to discuss controversial doctrinal matters won him wide Pentecostal support through the 1950s.’ (Winkey Pratney, Revival p223-4 [Whitaker House edition])
The Healing Movement Moved On
Branham’s shelf-life began to wane as other popular healing ministries emerged. Oral Roberts was able to adapt his ministry to the more cultured Pentecostals and a new breed of charismatics who had arisen. The immense stage presence and outrageous faith of Jack Coe secured a massive following and he was able to fill the largest revival tent in the world (220 feet by 440 feet seating over 22,000 people) The flamboyance and holy boldness of A. A. Allen drew multitudes to his meetings which outlived most healing evangelists’ ministries. T. L. Osborn took the healing and deliverance message to the mission field with amazing results. Tommy Hicks went to Argentina in 1954 with reportedly as many as four hundred thousand persons attending a single service. Some 50-60 other ministries followed their examples, though in a considerably smaller way.
By 1955 Branham began to encounter finances difficulties, doctrinal divergence and ostracism by major Pentecostal churches and his meetings became less and less influential. On December 18, 1965, driving to Arizona, he was hit head-on by a drunken driver, and he died on Christmas Eve.
Some of his difficulties could have been avoided, some were the inevitable results of such a dramatic and spectacular ministries which undergo a glowing, meteoric rise to international fame before they burn up on their return to normality. Such is the nature of revivals. They can never be sustained as the norm, nor were they designed to.
The Legacy He Left Us
Nevertheless the legacy left behind by William Marriott Branham is phenomenal. He had a profound influence on the Pentecostalism of his day, spurring the movement on to expect more activity of the Holy Spirit and His gifts in its ministry. The Charismatic Movement traces its origins back through the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Association and Oral Roberts, with scores of others connected with the healing movement.
Branham’s ministry was the major spur to thousands of Spirit-filled evangelists, not just in America, but across the world.
There may have been many things that were questionable about this ministry, especially in the later years, but the extraordinary results across the world far outweigh these and clearly verify William Branham’s ministry as a gift from God. May God give us all grace to deal with what we don’t agree with and wisdom to imitate what we see of God’s blessing!