An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
Outside the Camp
(Hebrews 13:12, 13)
Were it not so pathetic and tragic, it would be most amusing if we could obtain and read a complete record of the manner in which our text has been employed by various individuals and groups during the last four hundred years—to go no farther back. The reader would thereby be supplied with a striking illustration of the fact that "There is no new thing under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and see how frequently history repeats itself. He would learn too how easily simple souls were beguiled by a plausible tongue and how successfully Satan deceives the unwary by the very letter of Scripture. He would discover how the different divisive movements in the ecclesiastical realm—whether in Poland, Germany, Great Britain, or the U.S.A.—all started in much the same way, followed the same course, and, we might add, met with a similar disappointing sequel. To be forewarned is to be forearmed: it is because the rank and the of the people do so little reading, and are so ignorant of religious history, that they so readily fall a prey to those with high spiritual pretensions.
Hebrews 13:13 has ever been a great favorite with those who started "Come out" movements. It has been used, or rather misused, again and again by ambitious Diotrephes, who desired to head some new party or cause. It has been made a sop for the conscience’ by many a little group of discontented and disgruntled souls, who because of some grievance (fancied or real) against their religious leaders, church, or denomination, forsook them, and set up an independent banner of their own. It is a verse which has been called into the service of all separatists, who urged all whose confidence they could gain to turn away from—not the secular world, but their fellow-Christians, on the ground of trifling differences. That which these men urged their dupes to forsake was denounced as the God-abandoned and apostate "Camp," while the criticism they have (often justly) met with for their pharisaic conduct, has been smugly interpreted as "bearing Christ’s reproach."
In his most interesting and instructive work, "The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity"—a standard work which long found a place in all well-furnished libraries—Richard Hooker, three hundred years ago, described the tactics followed by the Separatist leaders who preceded or were contemporaneous with him. We will give here a very brief digest of the same. First, in seeking to win the people’s attention unto their "cause," these would-be Separatists, loudly proclaimed the faults and failings of those in high places, magnifying and reproving the same with much severity, and thereby obtaining the reputation of great faithfulness, spiritual discernment, love of holiness. Second, those faults and corruptions which have their roots in human frailty, are attributed to an unscriptural and evil ecclesiastical government, whereby they are regarded as possessing much wisdom in determining the cause of those sins they denounce: whereas in reality, the very failures they decry will adhere to any form of government which may be established.
Third, having thus obtained such sway in the hearts of their hearers, these men now propose their own form of church government (or whatever else they are pleased to designate their scheme or system), declaring with a great blowing of trumpets that it is the only sovereign remedy for the evils which poor Christendom is groaning under, embellishing the same with an ear-tickling name or designation. Fourth, they now "interpret" (?) the Scriptures in such a way that everything in them is made to favor their discipline, and discredit the contrary. Fifth, then they seek to persuade the credulous that they have been favored with a special illumination of the Spirit, whereby they are able to discern these things in the Word, while others reading it perceive them not. Sixth, assured that they are led by the Spirit "This hath bred high terms of separation between such and the rest of the world, whereby the one sort are termed, The brethren, The godly, and so forth; the other, worldlings, time-servers, pleasers of men not of God" (Hooker, Volume 1, page 106).
Finally, the deceived are now easily drawn to become ardent propagators of their new tenets, zealous proselytizers, seeking to persuade others to leave the apostate "Camp" and join them on "the true scriptural ground." "Let any man of contrary opinion open his mouth to persuade them, and they close their ears: his reasons they weigh not, all is answered with ‘We are of God, He that knoweth God heareth us’ (1 John 4:6), as for the rest, ye are of the world" (Hooker). Such was the policy pursued by the "Fifth Monarchy men," the "Brownists,’ Thos. Cartwright and his following in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Such too was the course taken by John Kelly in Ireland, Alex. Campbell in Kentucky, more than a century ago—the latter founding "the Christian Church," denouncing all others as unscriptural. So that Mr. J.N. Darby followed a well-trodden path!
"Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." After mentioning the Christian’s altar and the suffering and offering of Christ thereon, the apostle now draws an exhortation unto that duty which is the basis of our whole Christian profession. There are five things in this brief text which call for prayerful consideration. First, the exact force of its "therefore"—requiring us to ascertain the relation of our text to its setting. Second, what is signified here by "the camp," both as it concerned the Hebrews and as it respects us to-day. Third, in what sense we are to go forth from it. Fourth, how in so doing we go unto Christ. Fifth, by what means this duty is to be discharged.
"Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp." The duty which is here enjoined on the believer is drawn from what had just been declared: "Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate" (verse 12). There were one or two points in that verse which we reserved for consideration in this article. First, with regard to the meaning of "sanctify." We cannot agree with those commentators (among them some for whom we have a high regard) that would here restrict it to "expiate:" we see no reason for this narrowing of its force. Personally, we consider the term has as wide a signification here as elsewhere in Scripture: by His perfect oblation Christ has separated His people from the world, purified them from all their iniquities, consecrated them to God, so that they stand before Him in all the acceptableness of their Head.
Many words have a wider scope in Scripture than in ordinary usage, and the expositor needs to be constantly on his guard against narrowing the meaning of important terms. It is blessedly true that at the cross the believer’s Surety expiated all his sins, that is, cancelled their guilt, by making reparation to the Law; but it is the effects of that which are here in view. The sanctification of His people was the grand object which Christ had in view in becoming incarnate, and that He steadily pursued throughout the whole of His life and sufferings. The Church is now cleansed, set apart, and adorned by His atoning sacrifice. Christ sustained all the transgressions of His people, made atonement for them, removed the same from before God, and washed them from all defilement by His soul travail, bloody sweat, and death; and in consequence, they now stand before the Eye of infinite justice and holiness as everlastingly righteous, and pure.
Herein we may behold once more the outstanding excellency of Christianity above Judaism—something which we must ever be on the lookout for if we are not to miss the principal design of the Spirit in this epistle. These verses abound in details which exhibit the privileges of the new covenant as far surpassing those of the old. First, we have that "establishing of the heart" before God (verse 9) which the natural Israel possessed not. Second, we have "an altar" furnishing the highest and holiest sacrifice of all (verse 10), which they had no right or title to partake of: their sin offerings were burned, not eaten (verse 11). Third, we have an effectual and abiding sanctification of our souls before God, whereas they had a sanctification which was but external and evanescent "to the (ceremonial) purifying of the flesh" (Heb. 9:13). Fourth, Jesus has sanctified the people "with His own blood" (verse 12), which was something that the high priests of Judaism could never do—they offered to God the blood of others, even that of animals.
A further word now on the fact that the Savior "suffered without the gate," that is, outside of the city of Jerusalem which answered to the camp in the wilderness, wherein the tabernacle was first set up. Sundry things were represented thereby. First, this signified that He was not only a sacrifice for sin, but was being punished for sins, dealt with as a malefactor and dying that death which by Divine institution was a sign of the curse (Gal. 3:13). "They took Jesus, and led Him away. And He bearing His cross went forth (out of Jerusalem) into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: where they crucified Him, and two with Him" (John 19:16-18). This was done by the malice of the Jews, yet their wickedness was "by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23), so that it might appear Christ is the true sin-offering. Thus, God made the hatred of Satan and his agents to subserve His purpose and accomplish His own will—how the knowledge of this should comfort us when the wicked are plotting against us!
Second, in ordaining that His Son should be put to death outside the city of Jerusalem, symbolic intimation was thereby given by God to the Jews that He had put an end to all sacrificing in the temple, so far as their acceptance by Him was concerned: now that Christ Himself was laid on the altar, there was no longer any need for those offerings which prefigured Him. The shadow and the substance could not stand together: for the Levitical sacrifices to be continued after Christ’s death would denote either that He had not come, or that His offering was not sufficient to obtain salvation. Third, Christ’s going forth out of Jerusalem signified the end of the church-state of the Jews, and therefore as He left the city, He announced their destruction: see Luke 23:28-30. Very solemn was this: Christ was no longer "in the Church" of the Jews (Acts 7:38), their house was now left unto them desolate (Matthew 23:38). If, then, a Jew desired to partake of the benefits of the Messiah, he too must leave the camp—the whole temple system.
What a depth and breadth of meaning there is to every action of our blessed Redeemer! what important truths they illustrated and exemplified! How much we lose by failing to meditate upon the details of our Lord’s passion! In addition to what had been pointed out above, we may observe, fourth, that Christ’s offering Himself as a sin offering to God outside Jerusalem, clearly shows that His sacrifice and its benefits were not confined to the elect among the Jews, but extended equally unto the chosen remnant from the Gentiles. It was, then, yet another sign that "the middle wall of partition" was now broken down, that the barrier which had for so long existed between Judaism and the world no more existed. As 1 John 2:2 declared, "He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world"—for an exposition of which see our booklet on "The Atonement."
Thus, the force of the "therefore" in our text is not difficult to determine: because Jesus Himself "suffered without the gate, let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." But to make it still more simple for the reader to comprehend, let us divide the "therefore" into its component parts. First and more generally, because Christ has left us an example, let us follow His steps. Second, since we partake of the food of our altar, let us use the strength therefrom in a way pleasing and glorifying to Christ. Third and more specifically, if the Son of God was willing to suffer the ignominy of being cast out of Jerusalem in order to bear our doom, surely it would ill-become the sons of God if they were unwilling to go forth and bear His reproach! Fourth, if Christ in obedience to God took the place of being scorned and hated by men, shall we in disobedience to Him seek to be esteemed and flattered by His enemies? Fifth, because Christ has "sanctified" us, let us evidence our separation from the ungodly.
"Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." The second thing requiring our careful consideration here is what is meant by "the camp." "The apostle, in all this epistle, hath respect unto the original institution of the Jewish church-state and worship in the wilderness. Therefore he confines his discourse to the tabernacle and the services of it, without any mention of the temple or the city wherein it was built, though all that he speaks be equally applicable unto them. Now the camp in the wilderness was that space of ground which was taken up by the tents of the people, as they were regularly pitched about the tabernacle. Out of this compass the bodies of the beasts for the sin-offerings were carried and burned. Hereunto afterwards answered the city of Jerusalem, as is evident in this place; for whereas in the foregoing verse, Christ is said to suffer ‘without the gate,’ here He is said to be ‘without the camp’: these being all one and the same as to the purpose of the apostle" (John Owen).
"The camp" of Israel, then, and later the city of Jerusalem, was the seat and center of the political and religious life of the Jewish church. To be in "the camp" was to have a right unto all the advantages and privileges of the commonwealth of Israel (Eph. 2:12) and the Divine service of the tabernacle. For to forfeit that right, for any cause, for a season, meant that the offender was taken out of the camp: Leviticus 14:3; 24:14; Numbers 5:2; 12:15. Now it was in that camp that Christ had been "despised and rejected" by the Nation. It was concerning that camp He had solemnly declared, "your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:38). It was from that camp He had suffered Himself to be conducted, when He went forth to the Cross. Thus, at the time our epistle was written, "the camp" signified an apostate Judaism, which would have none of Christ, which hated and anathematized Him; and, in consequence, it was the place abandoned by God, given up by Him to destruction—for a generation later it ceased to be, even in a material and outward way.
But Judaism as such has long since passed away, what, then, is its present counterpart? The question should not be difficult to decide, though it meets with varied answers. Some say "the camp" is Romanism, and call attention to the many striking points of analogy between it and Judaism. Some say it is "the dead and carnal professing church"—from which, of course, their denomination is an exception. Others insist that it is "all the man-made sects and systems of Christendom," from which they have withdrawn, only to set up another system of their own, even more pharisaical than those they denounce. But a single consideration is sufficient to dispose of all such vagaries—which have, in the past, misled the writer. Is Christ Himself hated and anathematised by either Rome or the deadest and most erroneous portions of Protestantism? The answer is, NO. We must turn to other scriptures (like Revelation 18:4 and 2 Timothy 3:5) to learn God’s will for us concerning Romanism or the carnal sects, for Hebrews 13:13 cannot be fairly applied to either of them. The very name of Christ was abhorred by Judaism, it is not so by either Rome or degenerate Protestantism.
Let us not be misunderstood at this point. We are not here expressing our views on the whole subject of the Christian’s separation from what is dishonoring to Christ, nor are we holding a brief for the Papacy and her daughters. Admittedly Christendom is in a far worse state today than it was a century ago, and there is very much going on in it with which the follower of the Lord Jesus should have no fellowship; but that is a totally different thing from withdrawing from a company where there are many of God’s people and where all the fundamentals of the Truth were faithfully pro-claimed—think of denouncing Spurgeon’s Tabernacle as a part of "Babylon," and refusing to allow those to "break bread" who occasionally attended its services! No; our present object is to define what "the camp" of Hebrews 13:13 actually signifies, and then to show how erroneously that term has been applied to something radically different.
As we have said above "the camp" was that degenerate Judaism which had hounded the Lord of glory to death, and which could not be appeased by anything less than putting Him to death as a base malefactor and blasphemer. It is readily conceded that not only may numerous points of analogy be drawn between Judaism and Romanism, but that large sections of degenerate Protestantism now have many things in common with it. But it was not its law, its priesthood, its ceremonialism, nor even its corruptions which caused God to give up Jerusalem unto destruction. The "camp" from which the apostle bade his readers "go forth" was a Judaism which had not only rejected Jesus as the Christ of God, denied that He was risen from the dead, but which also insisted that He was a vile impostor, and reviled His very name. But so far as we are aware, there is not a single church or company upon earth that professes to be "Christian" of whom that can be said!
The fact is, there is nothing upon earth today which exactly duplicates the Judaistic "camp" of the apostle’s time. Yet there is that which essentially corresponds to it, even though externally it differs somewhat therefrom; and that is the world—the secular and profane world. Concerning it we read, "the whole world lieth in the Wicked one" (1 John 5:19). Those who comprise it are unregenerate, unholy, ungodly. It is true that one of the effects of Christianity has been to cast a veneer of morality and religious respectability over large sections of the world; though that veneer is now getting very thin. It is true that in some circles of it, it is still fashionable to feign respect for Divine things, yet, if the exacting claims of God be pressed upon them, it soon becomes apparent that the carnal mind is enmity against Him. But for the most part, Christ is openly hated by the masses, and His name fearfully blasphemed by them. And there it is that we are plainly told, "the friendship of the world is enmity with God: whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4).
Our next consideration is, In what sense is the Christian to "go forth" from the camp, i.e., from that which is avowedly and actively hostile to Christ? This question needs to be carefully considered, for here too the language of our text has been sadly wrested. Let us bring the point to a definite issue: is it a corporeal or a mental act which is here enjoined? is it by the body or the soul that the duty is performed? is it by our feet or our hearts that obedience is rendered? In other words, is it a "literal" or a metaphorical forsaking of the world which God requires from us? Those who made the serious mistake of supposing that it is the former, have betaken themselves to monasteries and convents. The explanatory and qualifying words of the apostle "for then (if separation from the wicked were to be taken absolutely) must ye needs go out of the world" (1 Cor. 5:10) shows the error of this; contrary also would it be to the spirit of the Lord’s prayer, "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world" (John 17:15).
Let us consider the case of the Jews in the apostle’s time. When one of them savingly believed on the Lord Jesus Christ was he required to "literally" or physically get out of Jerusalem? No indeed: even the apostles themselves continued to abide there (Acts 8:1)! It was not a local departure which was intended—though a little later that was necessary if their lives were to be preserved (Luke 21:30-32); rather was it a moral and religious going forth from the camp. "There was nothing that these Hebrews did more value and more tenaciously adhere unto, than that political and religious interest in the commonwealth of Israel. They could not understand how all the glorious privileges granted of old unto that church and people, should so cease as that they ought to forsake them. Hereon most of them continued in their unbelief of the Gospel, many would have mixed the doctrine of it with their old ceremonies, and the best of them found no small difficulty in their renunciation. But the apostle shows them, that by the suffering of Christ without the gate or camp, this they were called unto" (John Owen).
The application of this principle unto us today is not difficult to perceive. It may be stated thus: God requires us to forego and renounce all advantages and privileges—whether social, financial, political, or religious—which are inconsistent with an interest in Christ, communion with Him, or fidelity to His cause. An illustration of this is furnished in Philippians 3:4-10: those things which Saul of Tarsus had formerly counted gain—his Jewish birth and orthodoxy, his pharisaic strictness and righteousness, his persecution of the Church—he now "counted loss for Christ." The same thing obtains now in heathendom: when a Parsee, Buddhist, Mohammedan (or a Jew, or a Romanist) is truly converted, he has to turn his back upon, relinquish those things which he had hitherto most highly venerated. Love to Christ moves him to now hate those things which are directly opposed to Him.
Now for the fourth point in our text: by going forth from the camp we go "unto Him," or, conversely, by going forth unto Christ we go outside the camp. The two things are inseparable: they are convertible terms. We cannot go unto, without going from, and we cannot go "from" without going "unto." This is exactly what conversion is: a turning round, a right-about face. It is the heart turning from Satan to God, from sin to holiness, from things below to things above, from "the camp" unto Christ. That which is opposed to the Lord Jesus is renounced for His sake. The world is left, and He is followed. Self-righteousness is dropped that an band may lay hold of His atoning sacrifice. To "go forth unto Him" is to betake ourselves to Christ in His office as the Prophet, Priest, and King of His Church, and thereby find acceptance with God. It is to cleave unto and own Him under the contempt and opposition of those who despise and reject Him.
To go forth unto Christ without the camp, then, signifies for us to be so enlightened by the Spirit as for the eyes of our understanding to see Him as the promised Messiah, the only Mediator between God and men; to behold the One whom the Jews and Gentiles condemned to a malefactor’s death, as the all-sufficient Savior. It is for the heart to be attracted by the supernal excellencies of His person, to be won by Him, the soul perceiving Him to be "the Fairest of ten thousand." It is for the will to be brought into subjection of Him, so that His yoke is gladly accepted and His scepter readily submitted to. In a word, it is to heartily approve of Him whom the world still hates, becoming His humble follower, His willing disciple, and gladly enduring for His sake all the ridicule and persecution which fidelity to Him and His cause entails. Like the Gadarenes of old, the professing world now says to Him "Depart out of our coasts" (Mark 5:17), but those who go forth unto Him exclaim, "my Beloved is mine, and I am His" (Song 2:16).