Friday, May 14, 2010

Sir John Davies on, "The Intellectual Powers of the Soul"

There is a saying, “favor is the currency of God.” If favor were the result of fate or destiny then due to the impersonality of fate or destiny, favor becomes meaningless. If favor were the outcome of a game or even good deeds, then favor would be a wage. Favor is the “currency” of God, a blessing. The life of Sir John Davies (1569 - 1626), the English Renaissance lawyer and parliamentarian under Queen Elizabeth (and late contemporary of Sir Philip Sidney) is a wonderful illustration of one who received this blessing.

Davies wrote and published in 1599 a book called Nosce Te Ipsum, or “Know Thyself.” When Davies was presented to King James (yes, the same King James of the 1611 Bible) Davies was already a favorite of Queen Elizabeth. When King James inquired if the man before him was the author of the Nosce Te Ipsum, the King "embraced him and conceived a considerable liking for him." Davies was later appointed to be Solicitor General for Ireland when he was knighted in 1603, became Speaker to the Irish House of Commons (1613 -1615) and then Attorney General to Ireland. [1] King James really liked this collection of poems, and God blessed Davies with a way to bring glory to Himself through his position!

What was in Davies writing to receive such adulation from the British nobility? Below is a sample from Davies’ king-embracing work. This particular poem describes the intellectual power of the soul:

"But now I haue a will, yet want a wit
To expresse the working of the wit and will
Which though their root be to the body knit
Use not the body when they vse their skill
powers the nature of the Soule declare
For to man's soule these onely proper bee
For on the Earth no other wights there are
That haue these heauenly powers but only we."

As God created with words, so man is creative with words. What a beautiful demonstration of the image of God in man, as seen in this poem.

Davies explains in the poem following this one in his book, that wit is “understanding.” He does not intend for wit to be understood as simple “awareness.” Man is the only creature on earth (“wight”) with understanding. “Awareness” is shared among all living beings, but only man is capable of understanding that of which he is aware. The hymn writer Isaac Watts, in his book on Logic (published 1792) seemed to be influenced by Davies’ contribution and explains the flow of thought toward understanding (or, “wit”) from perception to judgment to argumentation to disposition. He writes:

“Perception, conception, or apprehension is the mere simple contemplation of things offered to our minds, without affirming or denying anything concerning them . . . Judgment is that operation of the mind whereby we join two or more ideas together by one affirmation or negation; that is, we either affirm or deny this to be that (that tree is high, God is just, good men are miserable in this world) [sic] . . . Argumentation or Reasoning is that operation of the mind, whereby we infer one thing, that is, one proposition from two or more propositions premised. Or, it is the drawing a conclusion, which before was either unknown, or dark or doubtful, from some propositions which are more evident . . . Disposition is . . . the ranging of our thoughts in such as order as is best for our own and others conception and memory.”

All that fancy talk means that first we see (or sense); second, we form relationships regarding what we see (or sense); third, we form opinions or come to conclusions (depending on our relationship to the facts); and finally, we order our thoughts. Here’s how it works, in four illustrations:
  1. We see a painting; we see the painting has color; we reason that the paint was delivered to the canvas, so we conclude the painting was painted; we arrange our thoughts that there must be a painter.
  2. See that building? That building is Starbucks. Someone must have built that building. There must be a builder.
  3. That tree is tall. Either it was made, or it was not. If it has always existed, then why isn’t it taller? It must have been made, so there must be a maker.
  4. We see evidence of a Maker or Creator; we reason that we are created and that the Creator must have some kind of relationship to His creation; He must know the most intricate parts of our being.
How did Davies come to the conclusion the soul has intellectual ability? For him, the will is not sufficient because it does not solve the deeper problems of life, namely death. The psalmist Ethan (David was not the only one inspired to write psalms) wrote, “What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?” (89:14) Every person has an appointment with death, and after this, judgment (Hebrews 9:27). We can’t even control our own body functions, so what makes a person think he can control anything at all by the will?

Davies describes wit as "the pupill of the Soule's clear eye, and in man's world, the only shining starre; [that] lookes in the mirror of Fantasie, where all the gatherings of the Senses are." In other words, wit is “intelligence.” Roy Zuck explains the intellectual “power” of the soul from a biblical perspective in "A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament" (Zondervan: Chicago, 1991):

"Man’s 'heart' is referred to in Ecclesiastes more often than his soul or spirit. Consistent with its usage elsewhere in the Old Testament, 'heart' represents the inner part of man, either his intellect, his emotions, or his will. The intellect is suggested in 1:13, 16–17, in which the NIV translates the Hebrew 'I said in my heart' by the words 'I applied myself' or 'I devoted myself.' The idea in these verses is inner determination to complete an intellectual pursuit. The NIV renders 'heart' by 'mind' in 7:25; 8:9, 16—verses that clearly suggest an intellectual exercise. 'Take this to heart' (7:2), 'you know in your heart' (v. 22), and 'the wise heart will know' (8:5) all suggest the intellect. 'I reflected on all this' (9:1), another instance of the exercise of the mind, is literally 'I have taken all this to heart.'”

Davies title explains the soul has intellectual “powers;” that is, the soul collects, sorts and stores. By definition, and by Davies’ 411 year-old observation, the mind is not limited to the physical body, but is connected elsewhere of deeper importance. Davies is in agreement with the biblical perspective!

Where does the understanding soul do? First, it understands that one is created by God who is all good and is therefore dependent on the one who gave him life. Men respond to this knowledge by the secondary understanding that, in comparison with their Creator who is perfect, there is nothing good and need the righteousness of their Creator in order to enjoy Him forever—this is life. The only other response is to blaspheme the Creator and set up a god of one’s own understanding, an idol. When life on this earth ends for those who raise their hands in pride against the true and living God, they will meet Him in His justice and pay the penalty for rejecting what they understand to be true concerning themselves and Him.

The sun, moon and stars cannot respond to God their Creator in the way that man is able. Neither can the animal, who can only react to his surroundings. The heavenly nature of true understanding is God enjoyed forever by man, growing in ever-increasing knowledge of who He is. No other being in the Universe has this priviledge.

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