Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.—Heb. xiii. 13, 14.
CALVARY was outside Jerusalem. That wholly accidental and trivial circumstance is laid hold of in the context, in order to give picturesque force to the main contention and purpose of this Epistle. One of the solemn parts of the ritual of Judaism was the great Day of Atonement, on which the sacrifice that took away the sins of the nation was borne outside the camp, and consumed by fire, instead of being partaken of by the priests, as were most of the other sacrifices. Our writer here sees in these two roughly parallel things, not an argument but an imaginative illustration of great truths. Though he does not mean to say that the death on Calvary was intended to be pointed to by the unique arrangement in question, he does mean to say that the coincidence of the two things helps us to grasp two great truths—one, that Jesus Christ really did what that old sacrifice expressed the need for having done, and the other that, in His death on Calvary, the Jewish nation, as one of the parables has it, " cast Him out of the vineyard." In the context, he urges this analogy between the two things.
But a Christ outside the camp beckons His disciples to His side. If any man serve Him, he has to follow Him, and the blessedness, as well as the duty, of the servant on earth, as well as in heaven, is to be where his Master is. So the writer finds here a picturesque way to enforce the great lesson of his treatise, namely, that the Jewish adherent to Christianity must break with Judaism. In the early stages, it was possible to combine faith in Christ and adherence to the Temple and its ritual. But now that by process of time and experience the Church has learnt better Who and what Christ is, that which was in part has to be done away, and the Christian Church is to stand clear of the Jewish synagogue.
Now it is to be distinctly understood that the words of my text, in the writer's intention, are not a general principle or exhortation, but that they are a special commandment to a certain class under special circumstances, and when we use them, as I am going to do now, for a wider purpose, we must remember that that wider purpose was by no means in the writer's mind. What he was thinking about was simply the relation between the Jewish Christian and the Jewish community. But if we take them as we may legitimately do—only remembering that we are diverting them from their original intention—as carrying more general lessons for us, what they seem to teach is that faithful discipleship involves detachment from the world. This commandment, " Let us go forth unto Him without the camp," stands, if you will notice, between two reasons for it, which buttress it up, as it were, on either side. Before it is enunciated, the writer has been pointing, as I have tried to show, to the thought that a Christ without the camp necessarily involves disciples without the camp. And he follows it with another reason, "here we have no continuing city, but we seek that which is to come." Here, then, is a general principle, supported on either side by a great reason.
Let me first try to set before you
I.—What This Detachment Is Not.
The Jewish Christian was obliged utterly and outwardly to break his connexion with Judaism, on the peril, if he did not, of being involved in its ruin, and, as was historically the case with certain Judaising sects, of losing his Christianity altogether. It was a cruel necessity, and no wonder that it needed this long letter to screw the disciples of Hebrew extraction up to the point of making the leap from the sinking ship to the deck of the one that floated. The parallel does not hold with regard to us. The detachment from the world, or the coming out from the camp, to which my text exhorts, is not the abandonment of our relations with what the Bible calls " the world," and what we call—roughly meaning the same thing—society. The function of the Christian Church as leaven, involves the necessity of being closely associated, and in contact with, all forms of human life, national, civic, domestic, social, commercial, intellectual, political. Does my text counsel an opposite course ?" Go forth without the camp,"— does that mean—huddle yourself together into a separate flock, and let the camp go to the devil? By no means. For the society or world, out of which the Christian is drawn by the attraction of the Cross, like iron filings out of a heap by a magnet, is in itself good and God-appointed. It is He "that sets the solitary in families." It is He that gathers humanity into the bonds of civic and national life. It is He that gives capacities which find their sphere, their education and their increase, in the walks of intellectual or commercial or political life. And He does not build up with one hand and destroy with the other, or set men by His providence in circumstances, out of which He draws them by His grace. By no means. To go apart from humanity is to miss the very purpose for which God has set the Church in the world. For contact with the sick to be healed is requisite for healing, and they are poor disciples of the "Friend of publicans and sinners" who prefer to consort with Pharisees. "Let both grow together till the harvest"—the roots are intertwined, and it is God that has intertwined them. Now, I know that one does not need to insist upon this principle to the average Christianity of this day, which is only too ready to mingle itself with the world, but one does need to insist that, in so mingling, detachment from the world is still to be observed; and it does need to be taught that Christian men are not lowering the standard of the Christian life, when they fling themselves frankly and energetically into the various forms of human activity, if and only if, whilst they do so, they still remember and obey the commandment, "Let us go forth unto Him without the camp." The commandment misinterpreted so as to be absolutely impossible to be obeyed, becomes a snare to people who do not keep it, and yet sometimes feel as if they were to blame, because they do not. And, therefore, I turn in the next place to consider—
II. What This Detachment Really Is.
Will you let me put what I have to say into the shape of two or three plain, practical exhortations, not because I wish to assume a position of authority or command, but only in order to give vividness and point to my thoughts?
First, then, let us habitually nourish the inner life of Union with Jesus Christ. Notice the words of my text, and see what comes first and what comes second. "Let us go forth unto Him "—that is the main thing. "Without the camp " is second, and a consequence; "unto Him," is primary, which is just to say that the highest, widest, noblest, all-comprehensive conception of what a Christian life is, is that it is union with Jesus Christ, and whatever else it is follows from that. The soul is ever to be looking up through all the shadows and shows, the changes and circumstances, of this fleeting present unto Him, and seeking to be more closely united with Him. Union with Him is life, and separation from Him is death. To be so united is to be a Christian. Never mind about camps or anything else, to begin with. If the heart is joined to Jesus, then all the rest will come right. If it is not, then you may make regulations as many as you like, and they will only be red tape to entangle your feet in. "Let us go forth unto Him "; that is the sovereign commandment. And how is that to be done? How is it to be done but by nourishing habitual consciousness of union with Him and life in Him, by an habitual reference of all our acts to Him? As the Roman Catholics put it, in their hard, external way, "the practice of the Presence of God " is the keynote to all real, vigorous Christianity. For, brethren, such an habitual fellowship with Jesus Christ is possible for us. Though with many interruptions, no doubt, still ideally it is possible that it shall be continuous and real. It is possible, perfectly possible, that it shall be a great deal more continuous than, alas! it is with many of us.
Depend upon it, this nourishing of an inward life of fellowship with Jesus, so that we may say " our lives are hid "—hid, after all vigorous manifestation and consistent action—" with Christ in God," will not weaken,
but increase, the force with which we act on the things seen and temporal. There is an unwholesome kind of mysticism which withdraws men from the plain duties of every-day life; and there is a deep, sane, wholesome, and eminently Christian mysticism which enables men to come down with greater force, and to act with more decision, with more energy, with more effect, in all the common deeds of life. The greatest mystics have been the hardest workers. Who was it that said, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me?" That man had gone far, very far, towards an habitual consciousness of Christ's presence, and it was the same man that said, "That which cometh upon me daily is the care of all the churches." The greatest mystic of the Middle Ages, the saint that rode by the lake all day long, and was so absorbed in contemplation that he said at night, " Where is the lake ?" was the man that held all the threads of European politics in his hands, and from his cell at Clairvaux guided popes, and flung the nations of the West into a Crusade. John Wesley was one of the hardest workers that the church has ever had, and was one of those who lived most habitually without the camp. Be sure of this, that the more our lives are wrapped in Christ, the more energetic will they be in the world: They tell us that the branches of a spreading tree describe roughly the same circumference in the atmosphere that its roots do underground, and so far as our roots extend in Christ, so far will our branches spread in the world. "Let us go forth unto Him, without the camp."
Again, let me say, do the same things as other people, but with a difference. The more our so-called civilization advances, the more, I was going to say, mechanical, or at least largely released from the control of the will and the personal idiosyncrasy, become great parts of our work. The Christian weaver drives her looms very much in the same fashion that the non-Christian girl who is looking after the next set does. The Christian clerk adds up his figures, and writes his letters, very much in the same fashion that the worldly clerk does. The believing doctor visits his patients, and writes out his prescriptions in the fashion that his neighbour who is not a Christian does. But there is always room for the personal equation—always! and two lives may be, superficially and roughly, the same, and yet there may be a difference in them impalpable, undefinable, but very obvious and very real and very mighty. The Christian motive is love to Jesus Christ and fellowship with Him, and that motive may be brought to bear upon all life—
"A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine."
He that for Christ's sake does a common thing lifts it out of the fatal region of the commonplace, and makes it great and beautiful. We do not want from all Christian people specifically Christian service, in the narrow sense which that phrase has acquired, half so much as we want common things done from an uncommon motive; worldly things done because of the love of Jesus Christ in our hearts. And, depend upon it, just as, from some unseen bank of violets, there come odours in opening spring, so from the unspoken and deeply hidden motive of love to Jesus Christ, there will be a fragrance in our commonest actions which all men will recognize. They tell us that rivers which flow from lakes are so clear that they are tinged throughout with celestial blue, because all the mud that they brought down from their upper reaches has been deposited in the still waters of the lake from which they flow; and if from the deep tarn of love to Jesus Christ in our hearts the stream of our lives flows out, it will be like the Rhone below Geneva, distinguishable from the muddy waters that run by its side in the same channel. Two people, partners in business, joined in the same work, marching step for step in the same ranks, may yet be entirely distinguishable and truly separate, because, doing the same things, they do them from different motives.
Let me say, still further, and finally about this matter, that sometimes we shall have to come actually out of the camp. The world as God made it is good; society is ordained by God. The occupations which men pursue are of His appointment, for the most part. But into the thing that was good there have crept all manner of corruptions and abominations, so that often it will be a Christian duty to come away from all outward connexion with that which is incurably corrupt. I know very well that a morality which mainly consists of prohibitions is pedantic and poor. I know very well that a Christianity which interprets such a precept as this of my text simply as meaning abstinence from certain conventionally selected and branded forms of life, occupation, or amusement, is but a very poor affair. But" Thou shalt not" is very often absolutely necessary as a support to " Thou shalt." If you go into an Eastern city, you will find the houses with their fronts to the street, having narrow slits of windows all barred, and a heavy gate, frowning and ugly. But pass within, and there are flower-beds and fountains. The frowning street front is there for the defence of the fountains and the flower-beds within, from the assaults of foes, and speaks of a disturbed state of society, in which no flowers can grow and no fountains can bubble and sparkle, unless a strong barrier is round them. And so "thou shalt not," in a world like this, is needful in order that "thou shalt" shall have fair play. No law can be laid down for other people. Every man must settle this matter of abstinence for himself. Things that you may do, perhaps I may not do; things that you may not do, I very rightly may. "A liberal Christianity," as the world calls it, is often a very shallow Christianity. "A sour Puritanical severity," as loose
living men call it, is very often plain, Christian morality. An inconsistent Christian may be hailed as "a good fellow," and laughed at behind his back. Samson made sport for the Philistines when he was blind. The uncircumcised do often say of professing Christians, that try to be like them, and to keep step with them, "What do these Hebrews here?" and God always says to such, " What dost thou here, Elijah?" Lastly—
III. Why This Detachment Is Enforced.
"For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come." That translation does not give the full force of the original, for it suggests the idea of a vague uncertainty in the seeking, whereas what the writer means is, not "one to come," but one which is coming. The Christian object of seeking is definite, and it is not merely future, but present and in process of being realized even here and now, and tending to completion. Paul uses the same metaphor of the city in one of his letters, "Your citizenship is in Heaven." He says that to the Philippians. Philippi was a colony, that is to say, it was a bit of Eome put down in a foreign land, with Roman laws, its citizens enrolled upon the registers of the Roman tribes, and not under the jurisdiction of the provincial governor. That is what we Christians are, whether we know it or not. We are here in an order to which we outwardly belong, but in the depths of our being we belong to another order of things altogether. Therefore the essentials of the Christian life may be stated as being the looking forward to the city, and the realizing of our affinities with it and not with the things around us. In the measure in which, dear brethren, we realize to what community we belong, will the things here be seen to be fleeting and alien to our deepest selves. "Here we have no continuing city" is not merely the result of the transiency of temporal things, and the brevity of our earthly lives, but it is much rather the result of our vivid realization and continual anticipation of, and our affinity with, the other order of things beyond the seas.
Abraham dwelt in tents, because he "looked for a city," and so it was better for him to stop on the breezy uplands, though the herbage was scant, than to go down with Lot into the vale of Sodom, though it looked like the garden of the Lord. In like manner, the more intensely we realize that we belong to the city, the more shall we be willing to "go forth without the camp." Let these two thoughts dominate our minds and shape our lives; our union with Jesus Christ and our citizenship of the heavenly Jerusalem.; In the measure in which they do, it will be no sacrifice for us to come out of the transient camp, because we shall thereby go to Him, and come to the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, "which hath the foundations."