Last Sunday I had the privilege of hearing a sermon from Romans 8:26 with particular emphasis on the term “helpeth”. The pastor began his exegesis by telling a story. He told of a time when he went to a local farmers market, one of his favorites, where the Amish would bring fresh apples and press them then and there to make fresh apple cider. People would gather around the cider press all day watching the work done and waiting for their turn to try some of the delicious results. This of course meant that there needed to be tons of apples.
As the day wore on and the crowd began to clear it was time for the Amish to pack up shop and head home. Just then the pastor was leaving but in leaving he looked back over at the cider press and notice a young man struggling to get the last basket of apples into his buggy. The basket was full and the struggle was real. Tried as he may, the young man could not get the basket to its destination. The pastor hopped out of his truck and went over to help him make the lift. When he finally got close, the pastor notice a potential contributor to the young man’s difficulty. He only had one arm and so could only grasp one handle of the basket full of apples. At that moment the pastor took the other handle and helped put the basket in the buggy.
The translation of “helpeth” in Romans 8:26 comes from the Greek word, συναντιλαμβάνεται which is the union of three Greek words, συν meaning “with”, αντι meaning “against” or “over against”, and λαμβάνω meaning “to take” or “lay hold of”. The pastor stood with the young Amish man but over against him, that is, on the other side of the basket and then took hold of the basket and they together accomplished a goal that the young man simply could not do by himself.
This is a perfect example of the Holy Spirit’s providential preservation spoken of in the Westminster Confession of Faith 1.8. That is, the Holy Spirit has kept and continues to keep His word pure by His singular care and providence. It is impossible for anyone, saint or otherwise, to keep the text of Scripture pure throughout all ages. The Holy Spirit must συναντιλαμβάνεται. He must be with the saint and his words but on the other side of the equation and there take hold of the preserving process and do that which we cannot in and of ourselves.
This of course is very similar if not identical to the sanctification process where it is impossible for the saint to sanctify themselves. It is the Spirit through the word which sanctifies the believer in body and soul, in mind and affect. In short, συναντιλαμβάνεται is a common function of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. In the context of Romans 8:26 it is the Spirit helping the saint in prayer. Prayer is common to the believer. Sanctification is common to the believer. Preservation is common to the believer.
But you say, “Textual criticism falls under Providential Preservation, just like Warfield says.” Indeed, textual criticism does fall under the providence of God as do the words of false prophets, the Holocaust, and the murder of Jesus Christ on a cross. But such an admission does not somehow make the act of false teaching or the murder of the Son of Glory somehow good or something that we should continue in.
More specifically given the preceding material, was the Holy Spirit aiding the Jews who yelled, Crucify him. Crucify him? In other words, was the Holy Spirit picking up the other side of the murder-Jesus basket? Or was it the Holy Spirit who lifted the other side of the false-prophecy basket? In these cases it seems the answer is, no. Why then should we conclude that the Holy Spirit is helping to lift the text-critical basket that rejects the Church’s Bible and openly calls God’s people to doubt portions of that Bible whether they be the long ending in Mark or that illusive 1-5% of the text today’s scholars can’t settle on? What is it about modern evangelical textual criticism that makes it distinctively Christian? Where are the robust exegetical and theological groundings in support of the way modern evangelical textual scholars treat the Bible year in and year out?
Sure, textual criticism falls under the providence of God but that does not make modern textual criticism a good thing in submission to Christ. The task ye to be accomplished across 150+ years of modern textual criticism is to show that modern textual criticism is a work of Christ’s Kingdom.
As it currently stands, there seems to be little which differentiates modern evangelical textual scholarship from a secular false religion other than the fact that the Bible is the object of their scientific experimentation. Again, such experimentation comes about under the providence of God but that is not same as saying the Holy Spirit is helping that false secular religion to lift that which it cannot.
On this point of providential preservation is where Warfield failed and it is where the modern evangelical textual critics continue that tradition of failure.