Channels Only


(photo of Ada Rose Gibbs)


“A vessel unto honor…and fit for the Master’s use” (2 Tim. 2:21)

     INTRO.:  A song which points out the need for us to be vessels unto honor and fit for the Master’s use is “Channels Only” (#659 in Hymns for Worship Revised).  The authorship of this hymn is questionable. It is attributed to Mary E. Maxwell (Late 19th-Early 20th Century).  Some have suggested, with no supporting evidence, that she was the prolific and popular Victorian novelist Mary Elizabeth Braddon Maxwell, who was born on Oct. 4, 1835, in the Soho section of London, England, to Henry and Fanny Braddon.  Educated by private tutors, she married John Maxwell in 1874 and died at Richmond in Surrey, England, on Feb. 4, 1915.  However, others believe that crediting the hymn to her is highly unlikely for two reasons.  She had a history of living with Maxwell, a married man, for thirteen years while his first wife was still alive before the wife died and Maxwell could remarry.  Also her works showed no interest in religion.  In fact, her most successful and well-known book, Lady Audley’s Secret, was a sensation novel published in 1862, with a plot that centered on bigamy, which was in literary fashion in the early 1860s.

The only facts which are reasonably certain are that Mary E. Maxwell was probably associated with the Keswick Convention movement in northern England and produced a number of hymns.  The tune (Channels) for “Channels Only” was composed by Ada Rose Gibbs, who was born on Oct. 5, 1863, at Whitechapel in London, England. Ada’s parents were George Edward Rose and Erllen Stenson Reeve Rose.  A contralto, she sang at City Temple, Holborn, London, and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Marylebone, London, for five years. After joining Richard D’Oyly Carte’s opera company around 1885, she played parts in several Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, such as Katisha in The Mikado; Ruth in The Pirates of Penzance; Dame Carruthers in The Yeomen of the Guard; and Duchess of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers.  Gibbs parted ways with D’Oyly Carte around 1890, and began working with the Salvation Army. She also sang with Dwight Moody’s evangelistic missions, and was apparently was part of the Keswick Convention movement. Her husband was William James Gibbs, at one time superintendent of the Methodist Central Hall in Bromley, Kent; they married around August of 1898 in Islington, London, England.

The circumstances behind the origin of this hymn are not certain.  It first appeared in a 1900 booklet entitled Twenty-Four Gems of Sacred Song, edited by Mrs. Gibbs who provided the music, probably published for use at the Keswick Convention.  The date of 1910 is sometimes given because the song was included under “Special Solos” in J. H. Allan’s Redemption Songs: A Choice Collection of 1000 Hymns and Choruses for Evangelistic Meetings, Solo Singers, Choirs, and the Home, published in 1910 by the Scottish Bible and Book Society of Glasgow, Scotland, which gave it more widespread notoriety. Ada Rose Gibbs, who was the mother of one of the former directors of Marshall, Morgan, and Scott, Ltd., who owned the song’s copyright, died on April 16, 1905, at Bromley in Kent, England.  Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “Channels Only” has appeared in the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al. (with updated pronouns), in addition to Hymns for Worship.

The song suggests some things which we must do to be channels that are useful for the Master.

I. From stanza 1 we learn that we must be saved, cleansed, and filled by Christ

How I praise Thee, precious Savior,

That Thy love laid hold of me;

Thou hast saved and cleansed and filled me

That I might Thy channel be.

  1. Before we can become servants of Christ, we need to be saved from our sins: Matt. 1:21
  2. Even after being saved, we must still seek cleansing through Christ’s blood when we sin: 1 Jn. 1:7-9
  3. Once we have been saved and cleansed, we can be filled with the fullness of God: Eph. 3:17-10

II. From stanza 2 (not in HFWR) we learn that we must tell others of salvation

Just a channel full of blessing,

To the thirsty hearts around;

To tell out Thy full salvation,

All Thy loving message sound.

  1. There are thirsty hearts all around us: Ps. 42:1-2
  2. Christ wants us to tell them of His full salvation: Mk. 16:15-16
  3. The reason is that He wants them to know His message of love: Jn. 3:16

III. From stanza 3 (st. 2 HFWR) we learn that we must look to Christ for power

Emptied that Thou shouldest fill me,

A clean vessel in Thy hand;

With no power but as Thou givest

Graciously with each command.

  1. We are emptied when we are made free from sin: Rom. 6:16-18
  2. The only power that we have as Christ’s servants then is the gospel: Rom. 1:16-17
  3. And as we obey His commands, the Lord uses this power to supply our needs: Phil. 4:19
  4. From s

IV. From stanza 4 (st. 3 HFWR) we learn that we must allow Christ to possess us

Witnessing Thy power to save me,

Setting free from self and sin;

Thou who boughtest to possess me,

In Thy fullness, Lord, come in.

  1. Witnessing here is not necessarily the idea of “witnessing” to others but that of having seen ourselves what the Lord did for us so that we might then tell it to others: Mk. 5:18-20
  2. Thus having witnessed what He did for us, we remember that He bought us: 1 Cor. 6:20—Acts 20:28
  3. And as His servants, we have been crucified so that Christ lives in us and possesses us: Gal. 2:20

V. From stanza 5 (st. 4 HFWR) we learn that we must surrender ourselves completely to Christ

Jesus, fill now with Thy Spirit

Hearts that full surrender know;

That the streams of living water

From our inner self (man) may flow.

  1. Though it is nothing miraculous, God wants us to be filled with His Spirit: Eph. 5:19, 6:17 (Gal. 5:22-23)
  2. This is possible only as Christ’s servants surrender by denying self, taking up the cross, and following Him: Matt. 16:24-26
  3. Then streams of living water will flow through us to others: Jn. 7:37-38

CONCL.:  The chorus asks the Lord’s help and direction in applying these principles

Channels only, blessèd Master,

But with all Thy wondrous power

Flowing through us, Thou canst use us

Every day and every hour.

The highest calling in life is for us to serve God as “Channels Only.”

One thought on “Channels Only

  1. According to “The Musical Herald and Tonic Sol-fa Reporter” of 1899 (3rd page from the end of the file linked below at google books), “Channels Only” and eleven other tunes of Ada Rose Gibbs had sold over 50,000 copies in the months prior to December 1899 in the form of “Twelve Musical Leaflets: Suitable for Solos and Anniversaries,” such that the first 12 songs in the “Twenty-Four Gems of Sacred Song” of 1900 were reprints, albeit in booklet form.

    The text written by Mary E. Maxwell is found in a May 1, 1892 issue (page 10) of a Pentacostal monthly periodical called “Tongues of Fire” printed in London:

    Interestingly, the suggested tune setting for the text in its 1892 published form, is the song “Satisfied,” #143, in “Hymns of the Gospel” ( which if I recall, you wrote about in an earlier post.

    Other texts for which Gibbs provided tunes are found in the monthly “Tongues of Fire” paper as well, including Maxwell’s “The Way of the Cross” (July 1, 1892, page 7: ) and E. Emery’s “Keep on Advancing,” published under the title “Song of Victory,” (April 1, 1891, page 8:

    Other poems and writings of Mrs. Maxwell are found scattered throughout issues of “Tongues..” seen at the site up through @ year 1900, in which she is called Mary E. Maxwell, M. E. Maxwell, Mrs. Maxwell, and Mrs. M. E. Maxwell. Both she and her son, Mr. W. Maxwell (also referenced as William) were scheduled speakers at conventions advertised in the paper, and involved in “mission” work. Details about her birth, death, etc. remain elusive.

    Frederick C. Spurr, in a tribute to Ada Rose Gibbs, makes the claim that he “found for her nearly all the words from various sources, while she wrote the music in the first instance to suit her own voice. Afterwards they were rewritten for general use.” (“Called Home: Mrs. W. J. Gibbs (Miss Ada Rose) In Memorium,” page 12: )


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