Posted by: rcottrill | July 11, 2012

Channels Only

Words: Mary E. Maxwell (details uncertain)
Music: Ada Rose Gibbs (b. Oct. 5, 1864; d. Apr. 16, 1905)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Little is known of either the author of the words or the composer of the tune. The Wordwise Hymns link will give you a guess as to the identity of Mary Maxwell. Though this hymn clearly has its roots in holiness teaching, it does convey some truths worth considering.

What exactly is a “channel”? In the physical realm, it’s a canal or a conduit. Most often we think of it as a something such as a river bed or a hose, along which water flows from one place to another. More broadly speaking, wires can be a channel through which electricity is delivered. In social interaction, an individual can be a channel of information from one person to another, or one group to another. This gets us closer to the use Mary Maxwell makes of the word.

In human affairs, individuals are appointed to fulfil responsibilities as messengers, envoys, ambassadors, mediators or intermediaries. These and other terms are used in the Scriptures. The term “apostle,” used eighty times in the New Testament means sent one (e.g. I Tim. 1:1), and the word “angel” means messenger (e.g. Lk. 2:10). All of these represent humans or spirit beings sent to represent another, and communicate between two parties.

A willingness to be commissioned to be a channel of God’s Word to others is seen in the person of Isaiah (Isa. 6:8), and the angel Gabriel (Lk. 1:19). Epaphroditus carried information back and forth between the Philippian church and the Apostle Paul. And truly of each believer it can be said, “We are ambassadors for Christ” (II Cor. 5:20; cf. Eph. 6:20).

CH-1) How I praise Thee, precious Saviour,
That Thy love laid hold of me;
Thou hast saved and cleansed and filled me
That I might Thy channel be.

Channels only, blessèd Master,
But with all Thy wondrous power
Flowing through us, Thou canst use us
Every day and every hour.

As ambassadors for Christ, He and His message are of first importance. We are significant too of course, but if we seek to advance ourselves we will be less effective as channels. To go back to my earlier illustrations, the hose and the electric wire are significant, but they are only appreciated to the extent that they efficiently deliver water or electricity.

It is best if, as Christ’s ambassadors, we say with John, “He must increase, but [we] must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). In terms of the practical effect, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Emptied of the distracting and hindering effects of self-promotion and the crippling effects of sin, a clean and open channel works the best.

CH-2) Just a channel full of blessing,
To the thirsty hearts around;
To tell out Thy full salvation
All Thy loving message sound.

CH-3) Emptied that Thou shouldest fill me,
A clean vessel in Thy hand;
With no power but as Thou givest
Graciously with each command.

1) What are some of the things that tend to hinder us from being effective channels for the Lord?

2) How does the role of an ambassador in diplomatic circles parallel a Christian ambassador? (And what are the differences?)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. I wrote somethng somewhat along the same line this week but of course, is not related to music. It is “The Shredder” and it deals with the importance of keeping oneself growing in order to understand the Lord’s commandments. I do enjoy this particular song, and like so many you feature, is not sung much in church services anymore. But it should be!

    • Good to hear from you. “The Shredder.” Sounds interesting.

      Just gave your piece a read. Nicely done. And there are a few things I’d like to “shred” as well. Impatience, for one. But the fact that bad habits rear their ugly heads, shattering any delusion of self-sufficiency, is a reminder of how much we need the Lord.

      Easy on the doughnuts. 🙂

  2. […] Note: This gospel song was written in 1903. Ten years later, Harper Smyth would become the music director at Euclid Avenue Baptist Church, in Cleveland, the street name giving the tune its name. This song seems almost to combine the words–or at least the themes–of two others: Ira Wilson’s Make Me a Blessing, and Mary Maxwell’s Channels Only. […]

  3. This song is life transforming. It affected my life when we sang it in a student’s congress some years ago as an undergraduate. I wish we could continue to sing it in youth gatherings because it makes us see the emptiness of life. More grace… [?]

    • I wasn’t sure where your last sentence was going, but I appreciate your comments. Channels Only has always been a hymn I use, as a pastor or preacher. It speaks to the idea that fruitful ministry for the Lord is not generated by us, but through us, as the Spirit of God works. It also reminds us that self and sin can block the channel!

  4. We are the channels, the instrument of God not only for our own benefit but to bless others. That’s the way our Lord Jesus demonstrates his divine help and love to all of us.

    • Yes, and I’ll add a thought with regard to the importance of having daily devotions. Let me challenge my readers to set aside a time each day in the coming year to read and study God’s Word, and spend time in prayer. You will be blessed if you do, and others will be blessed through you, if you do.

  5. Thank you for the information given here. It was encouraging. This song has been coming to mind along with a passage in 2 Corinthians 5. Verse 15 is the verse.

    • Thank you in turn for your encouragement. The imagery of a channel teaches some important lessons. The Lord needs a channel that is not blocked by self will, selfishness, and self-interest, so that He can carry on His work through us. God bless.

    • A QUICK P.S. It’s interesting to see the number of times in Second Corinthians Paul uses the phrase “through us”–as a channel functions (II Cor. 1:20; 2:14; 5:20; 9:11). It would make a good devotional study. 🙂


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