It is a sight that moves the Salvationist heart—a mercy seat, with people, kneeling, praying.
Designed, even named, as a “place” where people “meet with God,” it can be atop a musical drum outdoors or plastic chairs in a gymnasium or park benches at a summer camp. In good Army style, the form is secondary to the essence.
First cited in the Old Testament as part of the Ark of the Covenant, the mercy seat has also been a pivotal part of Army evangelistic strategy and worship since its inception. In his first preaching forays, a teenaged William Booth called people to pray at a table in a cottage living room. In so doing, he emulated revivalist Charles Finney and evangelist James Caughey.
Even its various names evoke mystery: “mourner’s bench,” “anxious seat,” “penitent form.” Frequented by gaunt addicts, innocent children, and saintly elders alike, one account records, “We’re all seeking the same Savior.”
Through the centuries, the penitent form has remained. An aged Booth described the sight of penitents at the mercy seat—lines of them—among his most treasured memories.
A hallmark of Army meetings is a call to the mercy seat. It is a key moment. “As soon as that goes out of use, we go out,” cautioned General Albert Orsborn. The call can signal a point of repentance, a sign post for holiness or a signature place for covenant.
We “can stain the mercy seat with tears of joy as well as tears of remorse” writes Nigel Bovey.
Indeed, the mercy seat is now open.
by Colonel Richard Munn