An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
Outside the Camp
(Hebrews 13:13, 14)
In the preceding article we endeavored to make clear to the reader exactly what was "the camp" from which the apostle exhorted the Hebrews to go forth. The more accurately a term be defined, the less likelihood of its being wrongly employed. It was at this point the present writer failed in an article which appeared in an issue nearly ten years ago—many a sound sermon has been marred by heading it with the wrong text. Dwelling upon many of the incidental analogies which exist between much that now obtains in Christendom and that which marked Judaism of old, we failed to concentrate upon that which was essential and fundamental, and hence, made a wrong application of this particular term "the camp." That which made the Judaism of Paul’s day to differ so radically from its worst state in the times of the prophets, was, that it had hated, rejected, and murdered the incarnate Son of God.
It is that particular point, the Jews’ casting out of Christ, anathematizing Him, condemning Him to a malefactor’s death, which must guide us when seeking to identify the modem counterpart of that "camp." There is, really, no exact replica on earth today of that Judaism which crucified the Lord Jesus: certainly neither Romanism—blasphemous and horrible as are many of its dogmas and practices—nor the most degenerate branches of Protestantism—rotten as some of them are in doctrine and works—can rightly be designated the present-day "camp." No, as we pointed out previously, that which most closely resembles it, that which in principle is essentially like thereto, is the secular, profane world. Its unregenerate and ungodly members do not profess to love Christ: the very mention of Him is hateful to them: they desire to banish Him entirely from their schemes and thoughts—except when they take His holy name in vain.
Next, we sought to show in what sense the Lord requires His people to go forth "outside the camp," that is, separate themselves from the ungodly, from those who hate and revile Christ. This, as we saw, is not to be understood "literally" or physically, but metaphorically or morally. It is not a local withdrawal from the world, but a religious and spiritual one. In other words, God does not bid His people be fanatics and lead the lives of hermits. Taking refuge in monasteries and convents is the Devil’s perversion of this important practical truth. No; the Christian is still left in the world, but he must not be of it. Its policy and maxims must not regulate him, its pleasures and attractions must not capture his heart, its friendship must not be sought; its politics are no concern of his. In heart and soul-interests he is a stranger here, and is to conduct himself as a pilgrim passing through this scene—"using this world, but not abusing it" (1 Cor. 7:31).
Then we pointed out that in going forth from the camp the Christian goes unto Christ: it is the two-foldness of act which the word "conversion" connotes. Yet it is not without reason that the Holy Spirit has worded our text as it is: there is a particular emphasis in it which requires to be noted. It is not, "Let us go forth therefore without the camp unto Him," but "unto Him without the camp." The difference is something more than verbal. It stresses the fact that Christ Himself must be the grand object before the heart, and then the poor baubles of this world will not possess much attraction for us. If He is not, then, though we may become aesthetes, there will be no contentment, still less joy: our case would be like that of many of the Israelites who had "gone forth" from Egypt, yet continued to lust after its fleshpots.
To go forth unto Christ without the camp means for the believer to make a complete break from his former manner of life, to renounce every thing which is opposed to Christ, to relinquish whatever would hinder communion with Him. In a word, the exhortation of our text is only another way of presenting that declaration of our Lord, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24). Sin must be mortified, the flesh with its affections and lusts crucified, the world forsaken, and the example which Christ has left us diligently followed. So, then, going forth unto Him outside the camp is not a single act, done once for all at conversion, but an habitual thing, a constant attitude of life. The cross must be taken up by the Christian "daily:" Luke 9:23.
Obedience to this injunction involves "bearing Christ’s reproach." The believer is called unto fellowship with Christ: fellowship now with His sufferings (Phil. 3:10), in the future with His glory. That "reproach" assumes different forms and has various degrees in different locations and periods, according as God is pleased to restrain the enmity of the wicked against His people. But in every age and in every place it has been verified that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12). That "persecution," that "reproach" of Christ may be cruel afflictions such as the early Christians experienced; or it may take the milder form of sneers, ridicule, and ostracism, which sensitive souls feel keenly. As Christ declared, "The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20). One reason why God permits this, is because His people are so prone to flirt with the world, and if we will not separate from them, He often causes them to give us the cold shoulder and appose us.
The flesh shrinks from and desires to escape such opposition. It is natural for us to want to be well thought of and nicely treated by every one. But let the shrinking Christian call to mind what his Master endured for his sake. In the types, the sin-offering was burned without the camp—far off from the holy of holies where Jehovah had His seat—to represent the sinner’s final separation from God, his being cast into "the outer darkness," there to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. And Christ endured the equivalent of that on the cross, during those three hours of awful darkness. He bore the fearful load of His people’s sins, and was deprived of the comforts of God’s presence. For Christ it meant entering the place of distance from God, but for us to "go forth without the camp" means going "unto Him"; for Him it entailed enduring the curse, for us it involves naught but Divine blessing! Then let us cleave to Him despite the world’s scorn, and stand by His cause on earth no matter what the cost to us.
But let us now consider by what means this duty of going forth unto Christ is discharged. As we pointed out in the preceding article, it is an act of the soul rather than of the body which is here in view. But to particularize. First, the soul of the believer goes forth to Christ by prayer, for real prayer is the breathing of the heart after Him and turning unto Him. Its first cry is "Lord, save me, I perish." There is the daily request for Him to make Himself more real to the heart, to grant us closer communion with Himself, and to remove those things which hinder the same. There is the asking Him to teach us how to draw from His fullness, to make us more obedient, to conform us more fully to His holy image. "Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth: for Thy love is better than wine" (Song 1:2) is the language of one whose heart is "going forth unto Christ outside the camp"—seeking from Him that which is infinitely superior to the best this poor world affords.
Second, it is the motion of faith. Christ is the grand Object of faith, and He can only be known and enjoyed now by faith. It was so at our first conversion; it is so throughout the entire Christian course. "The life which I now live in the flesh," said the apostle, "I live by the faith of the Son of God (faith in Him), who loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). When faith is inactive, there is no going forth of the soul unto Christ, no real prayer, no communion with Him. But when faith is operative the heart turns unto Him as instinctively as the needle of the compass does unto the north. When faith is sickly and listless the things of this world gain power over us: either its pleasures attract, or its cares distract us. But when faith is healthy and vigorous, the soul "mounts up with wings as eagles" and "runs and is not weary." It is faith which makes Christ real and precious to the soul. Then let us be more diligent in guarding against those things which weaken and quench it.
Third, going forth unto Christ outside the camp is the act of hope. This is the particular spiritual grace which keeps the heart of the believer from falling into abject despair. There are times when he is sorely tried and dismayed: sin rages within, the accusations of the holy Law sting his conscience, and Satan tries hard to make him believe that all is lost—that having abused his privileges, sinned against much light, turned Divine grace into lasciviousness, there is no remedy. So it seems to the cast-down soul: pray he cannot, and as he reads the Scriptures, instead of finding comfort every page condemns him. Then the Spirit applies some promise, and a little encouragement follows: but conscience still smites, and he groans. Now it is that hope acts: Christ had mercy on the leper, the publican, the dying thief; He is full of compassion, I will cast myself afresh on His pity. So too hope looks beyond this scene—with all its disappointments, sorrows, and sufferings—and anticipates the time when we shall be "forever with the Lord."
Fourth, going forth unto Christ without the camp is also the work of love. The love of God which the Spirit sheds abroad in the hearts of the regenerate is something more than beautiful sentiment: it is an operative principle. Love yearns for the company of the beloved: it cannot find satisfaction elsewhere. Christ is not to be met with in worldly circles, and therefore when the heart of the believer is in a healthy state, it seeks unto its Beloved outside the same. A word from His lips, a smile from His face, an embrace from His arms, is prized above rubies. To sit at His feet and drink from the fountain of His love, is better than heaps of silver and gold. Christ is precious to those whose sins have been removed by His blood, and their affections "go forth" unto Him—not so fervently and frequently as they should, or as they desire; nevertheless, there are seasons in the life of every Christian when he is permitted to lean his head upon the Savior’s bosom. Christ’s love to His own attracts their love to Him.
Fifth, going forth unto Christ outside the camp is the surrender of the will to Him. There is a change of masters: service to the prince of this world is renounced, and the Lordship of Christ accepted. There is an enlisting under His banner, a putting on of His uniform, a submission to His captaincy, and we act according to His will. How different is all of this from what many suppose our text signifies! One may identify himself with those who claim to have gone forth from "all the man-made sects and systems," and yet the heart be quite dead toward God. Or, one may belong to the most orthodox church, subscribe to its doctrines, adopt their language, echo its groans, and have not a spark of grace in the heart. One may separate from all the world’s politics, pastimes and pleasures, and have no love for Christ. There must be the exercise of faith, the stirrings of hope, the actings of love, the surrender of the will, and walking in the path of obedience, in order to meet the terms of our text.
"For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (verse 14). Four questions are suggested by these words: what is their relation to the preceding verse? what is signified by "no continuing city"? what is the "one to come" that we seek? how or in what way do we seek it? That there is a close connection between verse14 and the previous one is obvious from its opening word. Now that connection is twofold: first, verse14 supplies two further reasons to enforce the duty specified in verse 13—additional to those implied in verses 10-12; second, verse 14 may also be regarded as explaining and amplifying the language of verse 13.
The connection of verse 14 with verse 13 will be more apparent as we turn to the second question and consider what is signified by "For here have we no continuing city." Obviously, the "city" is used here metaphorically, as a figure of that which is strong and stable: it is that which provides refuge and rest to the great majority of earth’s inhabitants. "Change and decay in all around I see" said the poet: there is nothing lasting, durable, dependable in this world. In Genesis 4:17 we read that Cain "builded a city," and where is it?—destroyed thousands of years ago by the Flood. Thebes, Nineveh, Babylon were all powerful and imposing cities in their day, but where are they now? they no longer exist, yea, their very site is disputed. Such is this world, my reader: "the fashion of this world passeth away" (1 Cor. 7:31), and one day "the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Pet. 3:10).
The things of this earth are transitory: that which the natural man values so highly, and sells his soul to obtain, soon vanishes away. All that is mundane is unstable and uncertain: that is the meaning, in brief, of "here have we no continuing city." There is however an emphasis in these words which we must not miss: it is not simply "here there is no continuing city" but "here have we’’ none—something which can be predicated of none but believers. True, the worldling has none in reality, but in his imagination, his plans, his affections, he has—he sets his heart upon the things of this world and acts as though he would enjoy them always: "Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue forever, and their dwelling-places to all generations: they call their lands after their own names" (Ps. 49:11). And how is the instability of everything mundane to affect and influence the Christian? Thus: he is to renounce them in his heart—leave "the camp"—that is the connection with verse 13.
"For here have we no continuing city" (verse 14). "A city is the center of men’s interests and privileges, the residence and seat of their conversation. Hereby are they freed from the condition of strangers and pilgrims; and have all that rest and security in this world they are capable. For those who have no higher aims nor ends than this world, a city is their all. Now it is not said of believers absolutely that they belonged to no city, had none that was theirs in common with other men; for our apostle himself pleaded that he was a citizen of no mean city. This is intimated, as we shall see, in the restriction of the assertion: a continuing city. But it is spoken on other accounts" (John Owen). What those "other accounts" are we shall see presently, meanwhile we will consider the more general meaning.
In His providential dealings with them, God often gives His people painful reminders of the fact that "here have we no continuing city." We are prone to be at ease in Zion, to fix our hearts on things below, to settle down in this world. We like to feel that we are anchored for a while at least, and make our plans accordingly. But God blows upon our schemes and compels us to take up the stakes of our tents, saying, "Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest; because it is polluted" (Mic. 2:10). A significant word on this is found in, "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings; so the Lord alone did lead him" (Deut. 32:11, 12). Ah, my reader, it is not a pleasant experience to have our earthly "nest" stirred up, to have our rest disturbed, and be obliged to change our abode; but as that is essential if the eaglets are to be taught to use their wings, so it is necessary for the Christian if he is to live as a stranger and pilgrim in this scene.
God has called His people unto fellowship with Christ, and that means something more than participating in His life and receiving His peace and joy: it also involves entering into His experiences—enduring the wrath of God alone excepted. "When He putteth forth His own sheep, He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him" (John 10:4). That denotes two things: that we are not called to tread any path which He did not Himself, traverse, and that we are to experience something of His sorrows: are they which have continued with Me in My temptations" or "trials" (Luke 22:28). Now what was Christ’s experience in this word? Even as a child He had no rest here: His parents had to carry Him down into Egypt in order to escape the malice of Herod. Trace the record of His earthly ministry, and how long do we find Him abiding in one place? He was constantly on the move. "Jesus therefore being wearied with His journey sat thus on the well" (John 4:6), and in some form or other His people are required to drink from that same cup. If the Lord of glory "had not where to lay His head" when in this world, shall we deem it strange that God so often disturbs our rest?
But let us now consider the more specific meaning of our text. First, the Christian has no city on earth which is the center of Divine worship, whereunto it is confined, as had been the case with Judaism. Herein the apostle points another contrast. After the Israelites had wandered for many years in the wilderness, they were brought to rest in Canaan, where Jerusalem became their grand center, and of that city the Jews had for long boasted. But it was not to continue, for within ten years of the writing of this epistle, that city was destroyed. How this verse gives the lie to the pretentions of Rome! No, the Christian has something far better than an insecure and non-continuing city on earth, even the Father’s House, with its many mansions, eternal in the heavens!
Second, the believer has no city on earth which supplies him with those things which are his ultimate aim: deliverance from all his enemies, an end to all his trials, an eternal resting-place. His "commonwealth" or "citizenship" is "in Heaven" (Phil. 3:20 R.V.). The Christian does not regard this world as his fixed abode or final home. This is what gives point to the preceding exhortation and explains the force of the opening "For" in verse 14. The fact that everything here is unstable and uncertain should spur the Christian to go forth from the camp—in his heart renounce the world. And further, it should make him willing to "bear the reproach of Christ," even though that involves being driven from his birthplace and compelled to wander about without any fixed residence on earth. Finally, it gives point, as we shall see, to the last clause of our text.
"But we seek one to come" (verse 14). In view of what has been before us, it is quite clear that the "one," the City, that we seek, is Heaven itself, various aspects of which are suggested by the figure here used of it. It is an abiding, heavenly, everlasting "City," which the believer seeks, and the same is referred to again and again in this epistle—in contrast from the temporal and transitory nature of Judaism—under various terms and figures. This "City" is the same as the "better and enduring substance" in Heaven of Hebrews 10:34. It is that "Heavenly Country" of Hebrews 11:16. It is "the City of the living God" of Hebrews 12:22, the seat and center of Divine worship. It is the same as "those things which cannot be shaken" of Hebrews 12:27. It is "the Kingdom which cannot be moved," in its final form, of Hebrews 12:28. It is the "Inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in Heaven for us" (1 Pet. 1:4).
An earlier reference to this grand object of the believer’s desire and quest was before us in "he looked for a City which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God" (Heb. 11:10). Those "foundations" are, First, the everlasting good-will and pleasure of God toward His people, which is the basis of all His dealings with them. Second, God’s foreordination, whereby He predestined His elect unto eternal glory, concerning which we are told "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal: The Lord knoweth them that are His" (2 Tim. 2:19). Third, the Everlasting Covenant of free, rich, and sovereign Grace, which God entered into with the Head and Surety of the elect, and which is "ordered in all things and sure." Fourth, the infinite merits and purchase of Christ, for "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11). Fifth, the whole being confirmed by and resting upon the immutable stability of God’s promise and oath: Hebrews 6:17-20.
In addition to the few brief remarks we made upon the signification of this figure of the "City" when expounding Hebrews 11:10, we may note the following—bearing in mind those characteristics of a "city" which specially obtained in ancient times. First, a city was a place of safety and security: "let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans, and for fear of the army of the Syrians: so we dwell at Jerusalem" (Jer. 35:11). In Heaven there will be no wicked men to persecute, no Devil to tempt. Second, a city is compact, being the concentration of numerous houses and homes. So of Heaven Christ declared that in it are "many mansions." There will dwell together forever the myriads of holy angels and the entire Church of God. Third, in a city is stored all manner of provisions and needful commodities; so in Heaven there is nothing lacking to minister unto the delights of its inhabitants.
Finally, as a "city" on earth is the center of the world’s interests and privileges, the resting-place of travelers and those who go abroad, so Heaven will be the grand Terminal to the wanderings and journeyings of the Christian. His pilgrimage is ended, for Home is reached. On earth he was a stranger and sojourner, but now he has reached the Father’s House. There he will meet with no hardships, encounter none to whom he is a hated foreigner, and no longer have to earn his daily bread by the sweat of his brow. Unbroken rest, perfect freedom, unassailable security, congenial society, inconceivable delights, are now his portion forever. Faith then gives place to sight, hope to fruition, grace is swallowed up in glory, and we are "forever with the Lord," beholding His glory, bathing in the ocean of His love.
How the anticipation of this should make us set our affection on things above, spur us on to run the race before us, cause us to drop every weight which hinders us in running! How the consideration and contemplation of that "City" should work powerfully in us to look and long, and prepare us for the same! This brings us to ponder for a moment the meaning of "but we seek one to come." This, of course, does not signify that the believer is searching after that which is unknown, but endeavoring to obtain it. It is the treading of that Narrow Way which leads to Heaven, and that with diligence and desire, which is hereby denoted. "And God hath prepared a city of rest for us, so it is our duty continually to endeavor the attainment of it, in the ways of His appointment. The main business of believers in this world is diligently to seek after the attainments of eternal rest with God, and this is the character whereby they may be known" (John Owen).
Here, then, is the use which the believer makes of the uncertainty and instability of everything in this world: his heart is fixed on the Home above, and to get safely there is his great concern. The word "seek" in our text is a very strong one: it is used in, "after all these things (the material necessities of this life) do the Gentiles seek" (Matthew 6:32)—i.e., seek with concentrated purpose, earnest effort, untiring zeal. The same word is also rendered "labor" in Hebrews 4:11: the Christian deems no task too arduous, no sacrifice too much, no loss too great, if he may but "win Christ" (Phil. 3:8). He knows that Heaven will richly compensate him for all the toils and troubles of the journey which lead thither. "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out" (Rev. 3:12).