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12 Outside the Camp
( Hebrews 13 )
The great object in the Epistle to the Hebrews is to present Christ in glory as our great High Priest, bringing many sons to glory. A brief summary of the contents will make this clear:
Hebrews 1 and 2 present the glories of the Person of Christ and His place in heaven.
Hebrews 3 to 8 present Christ as the great High Priest, maintaining His people in earth as they travel home to heaven.
Heb_9-10:18 present the sacrifice of Christ, opening heaven to the believer, and fitting the believer for heaven.
Heb_10:19-23 shows that we have access to heaven, where Christ is, while we are still here.
Hebrews 11 traces the path of faith that leads to Christ in heaven.
Hebrews 12 speaks of the different means, used by God, to keep our feet in the heavenly path.
Hebrews 13 shows that the heavenly path lies outside the religious world, and that the present portion or those who belong to heaven is one of reproach.
Thus it becomes clear that, in the Epistle, Christ is seen in heaven, and believers are viewed as a heavenly people - partakers of the heavenly calling - running a race that begins on earth and ends in heaven.
In this closing chapter of the Epistle we are reminded that we are still in the body, and therefore subject to bonds and afflictions; are still in the relationships of life, which have to be respected; and with temporal needs, which have to be met. While, however, we are viewed as on earth, we are looked at as outside the religious world. If we share with Christ His place of favour in heaven, we must be prepared to accept His place of reproach on earth. If it is our privilege to go inside the veil, it is also our privilege and responsibility to go outside the camp. Thus the exhortations in this last chapter are all directed to securing conduct suited to those who share with Christ the outside place on earth. We do well to remember, however, that these exhortations as to the relationships of life clearly show that being outside the camp does not mean that we are outside what is natural.
(Vv. 1, 2). The first exhortation supposes the Christian circle governed by love. This is not natural love that loves those with whom we are linked by the ties of nature, however right in its place, but it is brotherly love, the portion of those linked together as brethren in Christ. We are to see that this love “abides”. The danger is that the love that is called forth by special trial, or persecution, may wane in the every-day life amongst those who are in daily contact with one another. By this daily intimacy we get to know the little weaknesses and peculiarities of one another, and this may tend to cool our love. Love is tested most by those with whom we are most in contact. With such we are to be careful that brotherly love continues, and that we practically express it by hospitality.
(V. 3). This brotherly love can further find an outlet by having practical fellowship with the Lord's people who may find themselves in bonds for Christ's sake, or who are suffering adversity. We are to remember such as ourselves having bodies that can suffer from bonds or adverse circumstances.
(V. 4). Moreover, while down here, there are the relationships of life. Marriage, which is the closest of all human ties, is not to be decried, but held in respect, and maintained in purity. Every violation of holiness, or of the marriage tie, will meet with judgment, either governmental or eternal.
(Vv. 5, 6). Furthermore, we have temporal needs to meet. We are to beware that they do not become the occasion of avarice. We are to be content with the present circumstances in which God has placed us. The reason given is very blessed: whatever our circumstances, the Lord is with us. He has said, “I will not leave thee, neither will I forsake thee.” If the Lord speaks thus, we may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid: what will man do unto me?” The last sentence is really a question. If the Lord is my helper, what can man do?
(V. 7). We are to remember our leaders - those who have passed from this scene. This word “remember” is a different word to that translated “remember” in verse 3. There it is a practical remembrance of those in need; here it is the remembrance of those we are apt to forget. They are worthy of remembrance because they have spoken to us the Word of God. Moreover, we are to consider the end of their conversation. If they spoke the word of God, it was not to attract to themselves, but to Christ in heaven. Further, we are to imitate their faith - not their peculiarities, their mannerisms, or even their ministry.
(Vv. 8, 9). In verses 8 and 9 we pass from the leaders who have gone from us to Jesus Christ who remains. Others pass away and others change, but “Jesus Christ (is) the Same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” At times we speak of the former great men of God as if, with their passing, we were almost left without resource. In so speaking there is the danger of putting an unintentional slight upon Christ. They have gone, but Christ remains with perfect love in His heart and perfect power in His hand. He too is the Head with perfect wisdom for His body. There is not a difficulty that He cannot enable us to overcome, not a danger from which He cannot preserve us, and not a question that may arise which He cannot settle. He is our stay and resource - our all. With this blessed presentation of Christ as the unchanging One the Epistle opens; and with this it closes. In the first chapter He is hailed as the abiding and unchanging One - “Thou remainest” and “Thou art the Same.” Others pass away but He remains: others change, but He is the Same. Seeing then that Christ is our resource, let us not be “carried away with various and strange doctrines.” Have we an itching ear seeking new light, or fresh light as people say? Let us beware lest, by our restless search after something new, we are carried away from Jesus Christ.
It is the active grace of Christ that establishes and sustains the soul, and not divers and strange doctrines, which appear to be very intellectual meat, but only minister to the mind, and therefore do not profit those occupied with them. The vanity of the flesh has a craving after that which is new, and seeks to exalt itself by presenting truth in a way that is different to all that has been taught before, the result being that the leaders who have gone before are belittled, Jesus Christ loses His place as the unchanging Object before the soul, and we are “carried away” by strange doctrines.
Thus we are led to the great theme of the chapter - the place which Christ has down here. We have learnt that He is with us; we have heard who this glorious Person is who is with us; we are now to learn where He is as regards the religious world, in order that we may take our place with Him.
(Vv. 10-12). To introduce this great theme a contrast is drawn between Judaism and Christianity. In the Jewish system there was indeed an appointed way of drawing near to God outwardly, in which the Gentiles, as such, had no right to participate. Now the altar - the way of approach to God - belongs exclusively to Christians, and of this altar those on Jewish ground have no right to partake. From Heb_9:14 we learn that Christ “by the eternal Spirit offered Himself spotless to God”, in order that we might have the conscience purged from dead works to worship the living God. And again in verse 15 of this chapter, which is a continuation of verse 10, we read, “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” Christ and His cross constitute our altar. The sacrifice which settles the question of sin is the way of approach by which the believer draws nigh to God as a worshipper. It is evident that those who clung to Jewish altars were really despising the great sacrifice of Christ. They were clinging to the shadows and ignoring the substance. Obviously such had no right to partake in the Christian altar - Christ and His sacrifice.
The Jewish community were outwardly the people of God upon earth, composed of the seed of Abraham. Hence to participate in this religious system natural birth, in the line of Abraham, was the great necessity. With such the question of new birth was not raised. In this system God was testing man as man; hence a definite appeal was made to the natural man. Its gorgeous ceremonies, elaborate ritual and magnificent buildings were entirely adapted to appeal to the mind of the natural man. It was a worldly religion, with a worldly sanctuary, and a worldly glory. No reproach attached to it: on the contrary, it gave man a great position in the world, and a portion on earth; but the system, as such, gave man neither position nor portion in heaven.
How different is Christianity! It blesses us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. It gives us a wonderful place in the brightest spot in God's universe - a place, the infinite blessing of which can only be measured by Christ Himself, the One who appears in heaven itself before the face of God for us. If, however, Christianity gives us Christ's place in heaven, it also gives us Christ's place on earth. The riches of Christ in heaven entail the reproach of Christ on earth. The inside place with Christ up there involves the outside place with Christ down here. The Jewish system is thus the exact contrast with Christianity. Judaism gave a man a great place on earth, but no place in heaven: Christianity gives the believer a great place in heaven, but no place on earth, save one of reproach.
What, then, is Christ's place on earth? It is clearly brought before us in this passage by the one word “without”, used three times in verses 11 to 13. In verse 11 we have the expression “without the camp”, in verse 12 “without the gate”, and again in verse 13 “without the camp”.
What, then, are we to understand by this phrase “without the camp”? It may help to a better understanding of the passage to notice that verse 11 presents the type, verse 12 Christ the anti-type, and verse 13 the practical application to the Christian. In reference to the type, two facts are stated which are brought before us in greater detail in Leviticus 4 , the chapter to which verse 11 refers. In that passage we learn that, after the bullock had been killed, the priest was to dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle the blood before the Lord in the sanctuary; then the body was to be carried forth without the camp unto a clean place, where the ashes were poured out, and burnt on the wood with the fire ( Lev_4:6 ; Lev_4:12 ).
The camp was composed of a people in outward relationship with God. “Outside the camp” is a place where there is no recognised relationship with God or man. It is viewed either as the place of judgment from God, or as the place of reproach from man. Viewed in the light of judgment, it is the place of forsaking - a place without God. It is the “outer darkness” that no ray of light can ever pierce, no love can cheer, where there is no compassion to sustain, no mercy to relieve. The body of the sin offering burnt “without the camp” fitly presents God's holy judgment in respect of sin. Into this place Jesus went. In order that He might sanctify His people with His own blood He suffered without the camp, or, as the Word says, “without the gate”, for when Christ died the city had taken the place of the camp. In order that we might have the place of blessing within the veil, He must take our place of judgment outside the camp The judgment our sins demanded must be borne before we could be set apart from sins, to live for the pleasure and praise of God.
We do well to ponder with adoring hearts the stupendous fact that Christ has been into the distance and darkness, and uttered that solemn cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Think what this means: He the righteous One - the only righteous One - forsaken of God. Never before or since has man died such a death. When has God ever forsaken the righteous? The fathers trusted in Jehovah and were delivered ( Psa_22:4 ). Others suffered with cruel mockings and scourgings, with bonds and imprisonments; others were destitute, afflicted, tormented: but not one was forsaken. In the midst of their sufferings they were sustained by grace, strengthened by the Spirit of God, and cheered with the conscious presence of the Lord. The light of heaven and the love of the Father so filled their souls that, in the midst of their martyr sufferings, they went out of the world with joy in their hearts and songs on their lips - not one was forsaken. Here, however, is One who is forsaken, One who can say to God, “Why art Thou so far from helping Me?”, One who cries to God, but has to say, “Thou hearest not.” Forsaken by God, no help in God, no answer from God.
Why, indeed, was He forsaken? The One who utters the cry alone can give the answer - “But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” God is holy: there is the sublime answer to the forsaking of the Cross: it is not simply that man is evil, but that God is holy. It was God, not man, that the righteous One had before His holy soul when He went into the awful forsaking of the Cross. It is God's great purpose to dwell in the midst of a praising people - a people made suited by the work of Christ to stand before the face of God. To gain this people for the pleasure of God, Christ went into the forsaking. When His soul was made an offering for sin, the pleasure of the Lord began to prosper in His hand. Throughout the ages there will be a people to the praise of the glory of His grace standing within the veil, because once in the ages that are gone Jesus went into the forsaking without the camp.
(V. 13). Thus we come to the practical exhortation, “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp.” Here, however, we must carefully note that this outside place is viewed no longer as the place of judgment from God, but as the place of reproach from man. We are not called to go outside under the judgment of God, but we are called to go outside under the reproach of men, and that to the uttermost. He suffered as the holy victim under the judgment of God: He endured as the patient martyr under the reproach of men. We cannot share His sufferings at the hand of God, but it is our privilege to share the insults He received from the hands of men. He went outside the camp to bear our judgment: we go outside the camp to bear His reproach.
This raises the question, What was it that brought Christ into reproach? Psalm lxix verses 7 to 9 give the answer. There we hear the Lord saying, “The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up.” He was zealous for God in the midst of a God-hating nation, and in result He was treated as a “stranger” and an “alien”. His zeal brought Him into the outside place of reproach and shame. He represented God in a world that hated God. His presence among men gave them an occasion for expressing their hatred. They vented their hatred to God upon Christ, as the Lord says, “For Thy sake I have borne reproach”, and again, “The reproaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon Me.”
The Christian is called to accept the place that man has given to Christ, and thus go outside the religious system that appeals to the natural man, which, in this passage, is called the camp. The camp, as we have seen, was composed of people outwardly in relationship with God, and with an earthly order of priests who stood between the people and God. It had a worldly sanctuary and an ordered ritual. It is briefly summed up in Heb_9:1-10 , where we are also told that it gave no access to God and no purged conscience to the one that did the service; and we may add, in that system there was no reproach.
In contrast with the Jewish camp, the Christian company is composed of a people, not in mere outward relationship with God by natural birth, but in vital relationship by new birth. Instead of a special class set aside as priests, all believers are priests. Instead of a worldly sanctuary, the Christian has heaven itself. Moreover, Christianity gives a purged conscience and access to God. Instead of appealing to the natural man, it entirely sets aside man in the flesh, and hence carries the reproach of Christ in a world that has rejected Him.
Bearing in mind these characteristic differences between the Jewish camp and the Christian company, we can easily test the great religious systems in Christendom. Do these national and nonconformist religious systems bear the characteristics of the camp or of Christianity? Alas, beyond all question, the truth compels us to admit that they are framed after the pattern of the camp. They have their worldly sanctuaries and have their special order of humanly ordained priests standing between the people and God. Moreover, these systems as such cannot give a purged conscience or approach to God in heaven itself. They recognise man in the flesh; they appeal to man in the flesh; they are so constituted as to embrace man in the flesh; and hence in these systems there is no reproach.
Are we to conclude then that such systems are the camp? Strictly speaking they are not. In one sense they are worse than the camp, inasmuch as they are merely imitations, framed after the pattern of the camp, with certain Christian adjuncts. In its inception the camp was set up by God, and in its corruption it was set aside by God. These great systems have been originated by men, though, admittedly, oftentimes most sincere and pious men, acting with the best of intentions. It follows that if the exhortation to Jewish believers is to go forth without the camp, how much more incumbent it is upon the believer of today to go forth outside that which is merely an imitation of the camp.
A difficulty, however, arises in the minds of many by the fact that numbers of true Christians are found in these great religious systems. It is argued, Can it be wrong to remain in systems in which there are many true, devoted Christians? In reply to this difficulty we may ask, Are we to be governed by what Christians do, or by what God says? Surely obedience to God's Word is the supreme obligation of every believer. If others have not the light of that Word, or the courage to face the reproach and suffering that obedience may entail, are we, therefore, to remain in a position that the Word of God condemns? Surely not.
Furthermore, while it is true that in the midst of the lifeless profession that mainly composes these great systems there are devoted saints of God, it must ever be remembered that the fact of there being such is not due to the system in which they may be found, but to the sovereign grace of God that ever works for the blessing of souls, in spite of the system. Such saints are not the product of the system they are in, nor do they give character to the system. Another has pointed out that the position of such saints is strikingly illustrated by the godly remnant in the midst of Thyatira. That church was characterised by Jezebel and her children. There were, however, those in Thyatira who were not the children of Jezebel. They were not the product of that evil system, nor did they give character to it. Such, it would seem, is very much the position of those saints who remain in these man-made systems; and, though in all love we would seek to make every allowance for such, yet, in the face of the plain exhortation to go forth without the camp, their position is a solemn one. It is not for us to judge the motives that hold many from going forth. Ignorance of the truth, lack of simple faith, the fear of man, the dread of consequences, the prejudices of religious training and associations, not to speak of more sordid motives, may hold many back. Perhaps, however, the most powerful influence to hold saints in these systems is the natural dread that we all have of being in reproach. To take a place outside the great religious systems of Christendom, in company with a rejected Christ and the poor and weak and despised of this world, entails reproach. From this everyone shrinks.
Is there then no power that will enable us to overcome this shrinking from reproach? Surely there is! And does it not lie in affection for Christ? Hence the word is, “Let us go forth therefore unto Him.” This word is of the first importance, for it gives us a positive reason for leaving the camp order of things. Going forth from that which we have learned to be evil is merely negative, and no man can live on negatives. Going forth without the camp unto Him does indeed involve separation from evil, but it is much more - it is separation unto Christ. It is a separation that gives us a positive object.
Moreover, apart from having Christ as an object, the act of separation would be sectarian; it would simply be leaving one camp and seeking to make an improved camp. This, indeed, is the actual history of the great dissenting movements. True Christians were awakened to the evil and corruption of that with which they were connected, and they laid hold of certain important truths. Forthwith they broke their connection and formed a party to protest against evil and to maintain a truth. This, however, is only to form another camp, which in process of time becomes as evil as the camp they originally left. However precious the truth, be it the truth of the Lord's coming, the truth of the presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or the truth of the one body, if we separate from the religious systems around simply to maintain these great truths, we are only forming sects. On every hand we see this has been done. Christians are exercised as to holiness, and forthwith they form a holiness league; they are awakened as to the reality of the Holy Spirit, and they must needs form a pentecostal league; they are awakened as to the truth that the Lord is coming, and they form a second advent mission; they lay hold of the truth of the one body, and they drift into a sect to maintain this great truth.
There is one way, and only one, whereby we can be kept in separation from evil and maintain the truth without sectarianism, and that is by going forth “unto Him”. He is the Head of the body, and all religious systems are the outcome of not holding the Head. There is much meaning, and rich instruction, as well as solemn warning in that great word of the Lord, “He that gathereth not with Me scattereth” ( Luk_11:23 ). That beloved servant of the Lord, J. N. Darby, writing on this verse, said, “It is not Christians but Christ who is become God's centre. We may gather Christians together, but if it is not Christ in one's own spirit, it is scattering. God knows no centre of union but the Lord Jesus Christ. It is Himself the Object, and nothing but Christ can be the centre. Whatever is not gathering round that centre, for Him and from Him, is scattering. There may be gathering, but if not “with Me”, it is scattering. We are by nature so essentially sectarian that we have need to watch against this. I cannot make Christ the centre of my efforts if He is not the centre of my thoughts.”
We have seen that the Lord promises to be with each of His people individually, but there is no promise that He will give the sanction of His presence to the systems in which many of His people may be found. On the contrary, He is outside in the place of reproach. He is with us individually, but are we collectively with Him? “Let us go forth” implies a company gathered to Christ.
(Vv. 14-21). Having thus exhorted us to “go forth ... unto Him without the camp”, the writer indicates some of the blessings and privileges that can be enjoyed by those who obey the exhortation. It will be found that the outside place is one in which many privileges can be enjoyed, and many scriptural directions carried out with a fulness that is impossible to those who remain in the camp order of things. Thus we learn that those who gather to Christ in the outside place are viewed as having certain characteristics:
(1) They are a pilgrim company - “Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” In the outside place we can take up our proper character as strangers and pilgrims. A stranger is one that has no continuing city here; a pilgrim is one that seeks the city to come. We may, alas, fail in the outside place to be true to our pilgrim character, but in the camp it would be well nigh impossible to wear that character with any consistency (verse 14).
(2) They are a worshipping company - “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” How difficult, in the camp, to worship God in spirit and in truth. Outside, it is possible to find, not only worshipping individuals, but a worshipping company (verse 15).
(3) The company in the outside place is one in which bodies are cared for. Hence we are exhorted to do good and to communicate (verse 16).
(4) It is a company where souls are watched over. So we are to obey our leaders and submit to those who seek the good of our souls (verse 17).
(5) It is a praying company, where the leaders who care for souls are sustained by the prayers of the saints. If the saints require the ministry of the leaders, the leaders need the prayers of the saints (verses 18, 19).
(6) It is a company in which it is possible to do the will of God, and thus be well-pleasing in His sight (verses 20, 21).
(7) Lastly, it is a company to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, “to whom be glory for ever and ever” (verse 21).
Very blessedly the Epistle opens with Christ in glory. Then we have a company of believers being brought to glory. Now, as the Epistle draws to its close, we learn that it is God's desire that those who are going to glory should take the outside place with Christ down here, and thus be for His glory in time, as they will be for eternity.
How blessed is the truth, as presented in Scripture, of a company of people who have gone forth to Christ in the outside place, bearing His reproach; having a pilgrim character; marked as a worshipping company, where bodies are cared for and souls watched over; in which prayer is made; and which is here for the pleasure of God and the glory of Christ. Alas! how little have we answered to the picture. Nevertheless, in spite of all our failure, let us press on, seeking to answer to the truth, and having nothing less before our souls.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Hebrews 13". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29