One of the commonest expressions heard in the public worship service is the leader’s directive, “Sing the first, second and last verses;” or, “Omit the third verse, please.”
I suppose it is not of vast importance that the third stanza is so often omitted in the singing of a hymn, but just for the record let it be said that the worshipers are deprived of the blessing of the hymn by that omission if, as is often true, the hymn develops a great Christian truth in sermonic outline. To omit a stanza is to lose one link in a golden chain and greatly to reduce the value of the whole hymn.
The significant thing, however, is not what the omission actually does, but what it suggests, viz., a nervous impatience and a desire to get the service over with. We are, for instance, singing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” We long to forget the big noisy world and let our hearts go out in reverent worship of that Prince of Glory who died for us, but our sad sweet longing is killed in the bud by the brisk, unemotional voice of the director ordering us to “omit the third verse.” We wonder vaguely whether the brother is hungry or has to catch an early train or just why he is so anxious to get through with the hymn. Since all standard hymns have been edited to delete inferior stanzas and since any stanza of the average hymn can be sung in less than one minute (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” clocks at thirty seconds to the stanza, normal tempo!) and since many of our best hymns have already been shortened as much as good taste will allow, we are forced to conclude that the habit of omitting the third stanza reveals religious boredom, pure and simple, and it would do our souls good if we would admit it.
If it were only in our hymn singing that this spirit were found I would probably not have brought the matter up at all, but I find it in pretty near every department of the religious life. Not the doing of evil deeds only but the omission of good deeds weakens the soul and invites the judgments of God. The same worldly, impatient spirit that shortens a hymn also shortens our prayer time and reduces the amount we give to the Lord’s work, as well as the number of services we attend each week.
Let’s sing the third stanza.
Excerpted from “Chapter 34,” The Price of Neglect, and Other Essays, Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897-1963)