Sin and Salvation in the sermons of Edwin Sandys: ‘Be this sin against the Lord far from me, that I should cease to pray for you’

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The way to salvation was at the heart of the concerns of the religious reformers of the sixteenth century, and through this the nature of sin also came under greater scrutiny. Reformers asserted that the medieval Catholic Church had fallen too far away from the true and primitive Church, and that its many rules were based not on the scriptures but on the whims of the papal antichrist. This led to the Catholic notion of sin being questioned; sin could no longer be erased through the purchase of indulgences or by paying for prayers.1 If we accept John Addy’s view that ‘Protestantism retained the medieval conception/idea of sin but without the medieval insurance policy of confession and absolution’ then the men and women of the sixteenth century were living in very uncertain times.2 Moreover, as Alec Ryrie has pointed out, the removal of Catholic devotional practices that were parts of the work of salvation meant that the early modern Protestant was without these aids and instead reliant on an inner experience for knowledge of their spiritual condition.3 If personal conscience was to be the arbiter of what was sinful for the godly then the individual was to some extent self-reliant in determining what sinful behaviour was and how salvation was to be achieved. Tipson has argued that in making scripture accessible what some found was not a gospel of salvation but one of damnation. Furthermore, references to unpardonablesins were to be found in the gospels.4 Failing to see that a pardon was being offered or resisting true religion were unpardonable acts, and thus an indication of who was to be found amongst the elect and who was revealed as reprobate. The Church’s concern with moral behaviour has been well documented, but the identification of sinful behaviour based upon personal conscience no longer just concerned such things as adultery and gambling, but also began to emphasise less visible shortcomings, such as failure to see the true path to salvation. However, whilst personal conscience was important, in reality the populace was not left alone to seek out their own personal truths to determine if their behaviour was sinful or not. Rather, they were guided through this process through reading of scripture (assisted by marginal annotations), hearing passages read aloud and, of course, hearing sermons. Carlson has argued that ‘late sixteenthand early seventeenth-century English preachers built a new relationship with their hearers – one in which they were effectively the indispensable agents of salvation’.5 The importance of preaching has been emphasised by Hunt, Morrissey and Ryrie, with Ryrie noting that ‘[t]he sermon was the defining event of early modern Protestant worship.’6 For Edwin Sandys, the failure of many to see that godly religion was the truth was indeed a great sin. Sandys was adamant that the key to salvation was to be found by following true godly religion and rejecting popery, but he was equally as clear that the truly godly would also reject unnecessary reform. This difficult path was best followed by obedience and co-operation with those in authority, particularly ministers and the godly magistrate. It is clear that his advice on avoiding sin and attaining salvation was often tailored to his audience, whether this was the Queen herself or a congregation in York. This essay will examine the sermons of Sandys both in the light of the religious controversies of the Elizabethan period and to show that Sandys was very politically aware in the way that he framed his sermons. Sandys, whilst religiously ‘radical’ in the context of the era, was also socially conservative, advocating the need for hierarchy and order.7 Thus for Sandys, sin and salvation were intrinsically linked to the politics of the day. His sermons saw the battle for the salvation of men’s souls played out in the religious conflicts of the Elizabethan era.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSin and Salvation in Reformation England
EditorsJonathan Willis
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781315609133
ISBN (Print)9781472437365
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2016


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