AS already urged, Hebrews 13 is probably the "letter in few words" to which the twenty-second verse refers. This has been discussed in a preceding page.1 No careful reader can fail to notice that here the epistolary style becomes more marked. And warnings such as those of the opening verses against immorality and covetousness appear for the first time. For the distinctive sin with which the Epistle deals is unbelief, and unbelief of the type that savors of apostasy, a going back to Judaism by those who had accepted Christ as the fulfillment of that divine religion. And to that special sin the writer reverts at the seventh verse, a fact which indicates that the change of style does not imply change of authorship.
The "therefores" and "wherefores" of Hebrews are important as giving a clue to the writer’s "argument." And Hebrews 13:13 will guide us to the purpose and meaning of the verses which precede it. The clause begins by exhorting the Hebrew Christians to imitate the faith of those who, in the past, had been "over them in the Lord," (1 Thessalonians 5:12) and had ministered the Word among them. Their strength and stay, whether in life or in death, was to be found in Him to whom pertained the divine title of the Same, (Hebrews 1:12; Psalm 102:27) and who, "yesterday and today and for ever," fulfills the promise of that name. Let them not be carried away then by teachings foreign2 to that faith. It is good that the heart be established by grace and not by religion.3
Let us keep in view that the, practical "objective" here is the exhortation "Let us go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach"; for His having suffered "without the gate" was a brand of infamy. And leading up to this, the Apostle appeals to at typical ordinance of their religion, which was as well known to the humblest peasant as to the anointed priest - that none could partake of the great sacrifice of the Day of Atonement, the blood of which was carried by the high-priest into the holy place. So also is there an aspect of the sacrifice of Christ in which His people can have no share. But, as He exclaimed in one of the great Messianic Psalms, "Reproach hath broken my heart." (Psalm 69:20) Shall His people then claim salvation through the Cross and yet refuse to share the reproach of the Cross? It was the religious world that crucified Him - the divine religion in its apostasy. And the magnificent shrine that was the centre and outward emblem of that religion was still standing. That temple was rich in holy memories and glorious truth: how natural then it was for them to turn to it. The Apostle had already reminded them that if the patriarchs had been mindful of all they had abandoned, they might have had opportunity to have returned? Hebrews 11:15-16) But they were looking for "the city which hath the foundations." And so it was with the Hebrew Christians. The "way back" was ever open to them: it was their special snare. And therefore it was not a single act of renunciation that he here enjoined upon them, but the constant attitude and habit of the life - an habitual "going forth unto Him."4 "For here (he adds) we have not an abiding city, but we seek after the city which is to come."
The whole passage then may be explained as follows. We know that, in one great aspect of His death, Christ stood absolutely alone and apart from His people. But the Cross does not speak only of the curse of God upon sin, it expresses the reproach of men, poured out without measure upon Him who was the sin-bearer. We cannot share the Cross in its godward aspect; but let us, all the more, be eager to share it in its aspect toward the world. "Let us go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." It is the Hebrews version of the Apostle’s words in Galatians 6:14,
"God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." The words "without the camp" have a twofold significance. For no Hebrew Christian would miss their reference to the apostasy of the golden calf. Exodus 23 records that, because of that apostasy, God rejected Israel. This we learn from the fifth verse. And then, we read, "Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp."5 Save for the apostasy within the camp, an Israelite who "sought the Lord without the camp" would himself have apostatized. But when the people rejected God by setting up an idol, He refused any longer to acknowledge them, until they were restored to favour by the intercession of Moses. And when, because of the unspeakably more awful apostasy of the crucifixion, Israel ceased to be "the congregation of the Lord," it behooved the disciple to take sides with Christ, who "suffered without the gate."
But here the Apostle reverts to the wilderness typology on which the teaching of the whole Epistle is based; and instead of the city, he speaks of the camp. "Let us go forth unto Him without the city," would have implied that when the Lord was crucified His people ought to have forsaken Jerusalem, whereas the Lord expressly enjoined upon them to tarry there; and even when the Church was scattered by the Stephen persecution, the Apostles still remained in the holy city. All this is of great practical importance in our applying this passage of Hebrews to ourselves. And though no part of the Epistle ought to appeal with greater force to the Christian, its teaching is almost wholly lost. Not only so, but it is often so perverted as to become a defence of error which the Epistle was written to refute. Indeed the commonly received exegesis of these verses in itself affords a justification of Hengstenberg’s dictum, that the doctrine of the types has been "entirely neglected" by theologians. The "we" and the "they" of verse 10 are emphasized in order to support the figment that we Christians have an altar of which Jewish priests had no right to eat. For nothing but the presence of very emphatic pronouns could warrant an exegesis so entirely foreign to the whole spirit of the Epistle. And yet, in fact, there are no pronouns at all in the text! For, as we have seen, the Apostle is not enunciating a new truth of the Christian faith, but referring to familiar ordinance of the Jewish religion.
There is a general agreement that the verse refers to the type of the great sin-offering of the Day of Atonement. But here agreement merges in a controversy as to whether the altar of sin-offering has its antitype in the Cross of Christ, or in Christ Himself. And those who maintain that the Cross is the altar of sin-offering urge that it was there, "outside the camp," that Christ "offered Himself" as the great sin-offering. But, as a matter of fact, Scripture knows nothing of an altar of sin-offering! And further, not even that great annual sin-offering was killed upon the altar. It was killed "by the side of the altar before the Lord."6 And seeing that, excepting the fat which was burned upon the altar, the entire carcass was burned without the camp, the figment that we Christians may eat of our great sin-offering is in flagrant opposition to the teaching of the type. But, worse far than this, it is a direct denial of the truth which the type is here used to illustrate, namely, that in the great sin-offering aspect of it His people can have no part in the sacrifice of Christ: "Alone He bore the Cross." Most expositors who advocate the somewhat conflicting readings of the verse above noticed, are too intelligent not to see that the word altar is here used in a figurative sense. Confusion and error become hopeless with those who take it literally, and apply it to the Lord’s Table. For this not only involves all that is erroneous in the rival views above indicated, but it is inconsistent both with the typology of the Pentateuch, and with the doctrinal teaching of the New Testament. The redemption sacrifices of Exodus, and the various sacrifices of the law enumerated in the other books of Moses, are each and all intended to teach different aspects of the work of Christ in all its divine fullness. And therefore, if the types be neglected, our theology is apt to be defective. Of the two main schools of Protestant theology, for example, the one gives such undue prominence to the teaching of the passover that in certain respects it ignores the teaching of the sin-offering; while the other gives an almost exclusive prominence to the sin-offering, forgetting that the Leviticus sacrifices were for a people who had been already redeemed and brought into covenant relation with God by the great sacrifices of Exodus.
And this error lends itself to the further error of supposing that a sacrifice necessarily implies an altar. There was no altar in Egypt, and yet "the house of bondage" was the scene of the first great sacrifice of Israel’s redemption. And as the Israelites ate of the sacrifice on the night of their deliverance from Egypt, so also on every anniversary of that night there was a memorial celebration of their redemption, when they met in household groups, without either altar or priest, to partake of the paschal lamb. And at the paschal supper it was that the Supper of the Lord was instituted - a fact the significance of which would be plain to a Hebrew Christian. For the Lord’s Supper bears the same relation to the redemption accomplished at Calvary that the paschal supper bore to the redemption accomplished in Egypt.7
Let us then keep clearly in mind that the paschal supper was not a repetition, but only a memorial, of the great redemption passover. For, unlike the many sacrifices of the law, these redemption sacrifices were never to be repeated, but were offered once for all. Sacrifices, I say, for, as we have seen, the sacrifice by which the covenant was dedicated pointed back to the paschal lamb, and the blood of the covenant was the complement, so to speak, of the blood of the passover. Hence the words with which at the Supper the Lord gave the Cup to the disciples: "This is my blood of the New Covenant." (Matthew 26:28). The conclusion is thus confirmed that it is the death of Christ as the fulfillment of the redemption sacrifices that the Supper commemorates.
However we approach the subject, therefore, it is clear that to speak of an altar or a priest in connection with the Lord’s Supper has no Scriptural sanction. These errors of the religion of Christendom would have revolted the Hebrew Christians. Their special snare was a clinging to the religion of type and shadow which pointed to Christ, and which was fulfilled at His coming. But the errors of Christendom bespeak an apostasy which savours of paganism. For, except in the spiritual sense in which every Christian is a priest, an earthly priest outside the family of Aaron must be a pagan priest, and an altar save on Mount Moriah must be a pagan altar. When the Lord declared that Jerusalem would cease to be the divinely appointed place of worship upon earth, it was not that Christianity would set up "special sanctuaries" (I quote Bishop Lightfoot’s phrase once more), but that the true worshippers should "worship the Father in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23 See earlier in this work.)
And surely we can sympathize with the feelings of a Hebrew Christian as, standing in the Temple courts thronged with worshippers at the hour of the daily sacrifice, he watched the divinely appointed priests accomplishing the divinely ordered service which, during all the ages of his nation’s history, had been the most ennobling influence in the national life. Every clement of pious emotion, of national sentiment - of superstition, if you will - must have combined. to attract and fascinate him, as with reverence and awe he gazed upon that splendid shrine which had been raised by divine command upon the very spot which their Jehovah God had chosen for His sanctuary, the place where kings and prophets and generation after generation of holy Israelites had worshipped for more than a thousand years. With such thoughts and memories as these filling mind and heart, nothing but the revelation of something higher and more glorious could ever wean him from his devotion to the national religion. With what indignation and contempt he would have spurned the altars and the priests of the religion of Christendom! But the Epistle to the Hebrews sought to teach him that as a partaker of a heavenly calling, he had to do with heavenly realities, of which the glories of his national cult were but types; and shadows. As a pious Jew he did not need to learn the truth which even paganism knows, though the sham "Christian religion" is ignorant. of it, that the place for the altar and the priest must be the place of the worshipper’s approach to God. While therefore Israel, being an earthly people, had "a sanctuary of this world," the place of worship of the heavenly people was to be the presence of God in heaven.