D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones would often say that the truth of God’s word should be presented to the mind in order to inflame the heart and move the will to action. In speaking like that the preacher was using the language of ‘faculty psychology’. The ‘faculties’ of the soul describe its intertwining functions and powers, such as the mind, the affections and the will. That does not mean the soul is composed of various bits and pieces. Most proponents of faculty psychology believed that the human soul is a simple entity that cannot be divided into discrete parts as can the body.
Early Christian thinkers such as Augustine of Hippo drew upon the views of Plato and Aristotle when formulating their doctrine of human nature. Reformers John Calvin and Peter Martyr Vermigli followed in their wake. The old Greek philosophers knew nothing of original sin or the resurrection of the body, however, so their ideas had to be modified in the light of biblical teaching.
The focus of Helm's study is on the ‘faculty psychology’ of Puritan writers. He cites the views of numerous Puritans on the relationship between body and soul, the faculties of the soul and moral agency. The teaching of familiar figures such as John Owen and John Flavel is discussed, as well as less well known writers like William Pemble. The book demands careful reading, as each author quoted had a slightly different perspective on the matters under consideration. Helm’s discussion of the conscience in Puritan writings is especially illuminating.
John Locke critiqued traditional faculty psychology, preferring to emphasise the actions of the undivided self over and against differentiated powers of mind, heart and will. Helm provides evidence of Locke’s influence on Jonathan Edwards’s work, The Religious Affections. But Locke’s objections did not spell the end of faculty psychology. The insights of our Puritan forebears continue to cast light on human nature as created by God, affected by sin and redeemed by grace.
Paul Helm blogs at Helm's Deep.
*Reviewed for the April 2022 edition of The Banner of Truth Magazine