Hebrews 13

The first verse of our chapter is very short but very important. The word continue is virtually the same as the word remain, which closes verse 27 of the previous chapter. Only the things which cannot be shaken are going to remain when the great day of shaking arrives; then, let brotherly love remain amongst the saints of God today. It is one of the things which will remain unshaken in eternity.

Let us recall that in the early part of the epistle believers are spoken of as the “many sons” being brought “unto glory.” Christ was seen to be “the Captain of their salvation,” who is “not ashamed to call them brethren.” Hence most evidently Christians are brethren, and the love existing between them, the fruit of the new nature divinely implanted, is to be cultivated. In fostering it we shall not be like children building a sand­castle to be washed away by the next tide, but like those who build for eternity.

Verses 2 and 3 indicate two directions in which brotherly love is to express itself. First, in hospitality; that is, in the love of strangers. The world is usually prepared to receive those they esteem as important or influential, and thus to do honour to the distinguished guest. We are bidden to rise above merely worldly motives and to receive brethren unknown to us simply because they are brethren. This is true brotherly love in manifestation: a manifestation all too often but very little seen in our land. Second, it is to come out in the remembrance of brethren in adversity, particularly of those suffering imprisonment.

The word, remember, means to recollect in an active way; not merely to call to mind, but to do so with active sympathy. If one member suffer all the members suffer with it, we are told elsewhere; and what we find here is in keeping with that fact. True brotherly love would lead us so to remember all such sufferers as to sympathetically support and succour them, as far as we are able.

In verse 4 natural love is in question, and that in the world has been sadly perverted and marred. By Christians it is to be preserved intact as a sanctified thing, which originated in God. In verse 5 another “love” comes before us – the love of money. The Christian's manner of life is to be characterized as being without this altogether, since this is a love which never originated in God at all. Only when man had become a fallen creature did he lose all love for God and enthrone in his heart earthly objects, and more particularly the money which enabled him to pursue them.

The word for us is, be content with “such things as ye have,” or, “your present circumstances.” A very searching word it is too! The world is filled with covetousness as much as ever, perhaps more than ever. God is not in all its thoughts, which are concentrated upon material gain. Out of this spring all the strifes. Envies, jealousies, heartburnings, quarrellings are everywhere! Oh, let us so live as to present a very definite contrast to all this! May it be manifest to all that we are actuated by another love than the love of money!

“But,” it may be said, “in these days of competition we must bend all our energies to the making of money, else we shall not long retain such things as we have, but shall sink into poverty.” The answer to this thought is however immediately anticipated in these verses. We have the definite promise of His unfailing presence and support; consequently we may boldly count upon the Lord for all our needs, and have no fear of man.

There are two points of great interest about verses 5 and 6. The first concerns the way in which the Old Testament Scripture is quoted. It was to Joshua that the Lord said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” We might very properly say to ourselves, “But I am no Joshua. He was a very eminent man of faith, and I am a very insignificant and often a very feeble believer. Would it not be a rather forward and impertinent thing for me to calmly assume that a promise made to him is equally valid for me?” It is delightful to discover from these verses that such an application of this ancient promise is not the boldness of presumption but the boldness of faith. The fact is, of course, that what God is, He is towards His people in all time and circumstances. There is no variableness nor shadow of turning with Him. He will not be less towards His people in this dispensation than He was in a past dispensation. We may wholly count upon Him.

The Christian poetess has said,

“They that trust Him wholly ,
Find Him wholly true.”

This of course is so, but it is well when quoting these happy words to lay the stress on the word, find; since it is equally a fact that He is wholly true to those who do not trust Him wholly. Their defective faith will never provoke Him to defective faithfulness. No! But their defective faith will obscure their view of His faithfulness, and possibly they may never FIND Him wholly true, – never really wake up to it, as a realized and enjoyed thing – until they discover it in glory.

The second point of interest is not so much the application of this Old Testament text but rather the reasoning which is based upon it. The skeleton outline of the reasoning runs thus, “He hath said ... so that we may boldly say …” If God speaks we may accept what He says with all confidence. More than this, we may assert what He asserts with all boldness. And we may do even more than this. For if He asserts things concerning Himself in regard to His people, we may, since we are of His people, assert these things boldly as applying to ourselves. Indeed we may take it home with all confidence as applying to each individually; even as here we read, “The Lord is MY Helper, I will not fear.” In our reading of Scripture let us form the happy habit of thus applying the words of God to ourselves.

Before leaving the first six verses let us notice the simplicity which is here enjoined upon believers; a simplicity all too much lost in these days of civilized artificiality. How striking a testimony would be rendered if we were marked by that brotherly love which expresses itself in hospitality and practical sympathy, by natural love preserved in undefiled honour, and by a holy contentment, the fruit of the realized presence of God, and the very opposite of the mad covetousness and discontent of the world.

The seventh verse bids us remember those who are guides or leaders, having ministered the word of God. To be a leader one needs not only to minister the word but to practise it. When this is the case faith is made evident and the “end” or “issue” of their conduct can be seen, and we can safely be exhorted to imitate their faith. Their faith , be it observed. It is all too easy to start imitating the speech and ways and idiosyncrasies of those we look up to. But if we imitate anything let it be the faith which underlies and inspires all else about them.

In verse 8 also our thoughts are carried back to the things with which we started in chapter 1. There we discovered that the words occurring in Psalm 102, “Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail,” were not addressed to God in a general way, but specifically to the One whom we know as our Lord Jesus Christ. This thought is amplified in the great statement that He is “the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” Of whom could such a statement be made but of One who was and is God?

Now just because the One in whom our faith centres is the same: there must be a certain kind of sameness in all the truth that also centres in Him. He can never be the Centre and Theme of doctrines which are various and strange. There is no place for that unsatisfied restlessness of the human mind that is forever running after notions, however contradictory they may be. Now the real knowledge of Jesus establishes the heart with grace, and mere variety and novelty cease to attract. The danger immediately threatening the Hebrews was the importation of strange doctrines from their own former religion, as is indicated by the allusion to “meats.”

A certain proportion of the meats consumed by the Jews reached them through their sacrifices. Leviticus 7 shows us that not only the priests, but also in some cases those who offered were privileged to eat parts of the things offered: that is, they ate of the altar. How often must unbelieving Jews have flung the taunt at their believing brethren that they now had no altar in which to claim their share! But the fact is, “We have an altar”! And of the Christian's altar the proud orthodox Jew had no right to eat, having shut himself out by his own unbelief.

What is the Christian altar, and where is it to be found? “Come to us,” say the Romanists, “and in our high altars, ornamented with crucifix and candles, where mass is daily said, you will find it.” And so also, though with slight variations, say Greek and Anglo-Catholics. But what says the Scripture? It says, “We have an altar, ... for ... Jesus also, ... suffered without the gate.” Patriarchal and Jewish altars – the only altars made by hands that ever were sanctioned by God – were just types of the death of Christ. We eat of that Altar, inasmuch as every bit of spiritual blessing that we are able to appropriate comes to us from thence. We eat His flesh and drink His blood, according to our Lord's own words in John 6; and in this there is no allusion to the Lord's supper, but rather to a spiritual appropriation of His death. Just as Baptism sets forth in figure our burial with Christ, so the Lord's supper sets forth in figure this spiritual appropriation: that is all.

In the death of Christ, then, we have our Altar; but in His death we have also the antitype of the sin offering. According to Leviticus 4, if the sin in question was of such a nature as to involve the whole congregation, then the blood of the offering had to be carried into the holy place and sprinkled before the veil, and the carcass of the animal had to be burned without the camp. Our Lord Jesus has taken up the whole question of sin in all its gravity. His blood has spoken in the fulness of its virtue in the immediate presence of God, and, true to the type, He died as the rejected One outside the gate of that very city which was the crown and glory of man's religion. We are glad to be identified with the virtue of His blood before God; are we as glad to be identified with Him in His place of rejection without the camp? Except we have come powerfully under the attraction of His love, we are not!

Verse 11 gives us the type. Verse 12 gives us the fulfilment of the type, in Jesus suffering without the gate of Jerusalem. Verse 13 gives us the exhortation based upon it, but using again the language of the type. We are not exhorted to go without the city, for here we have no continuing city as verse 14 reminds us, but to go without the camp. To the believer the world has become a wilderness.

Moreover, had the exhortation been, “Go forth ... without the city,” the words might have had a merely political significance to these early Hebrews. As a matter of fact, when a few years later Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, the Christians had almost to a man fled the city; but that was not the point here. The camp was Israel viewed religiously, Israel grouped around the Tabernacle according to the divine order. The call to these Hebrews was to go outside the religious system of Judaism, and thus to take up the reproach of Christ. Only one thing could induce them to obey this call, and that the love of Him. “Let us go forth therefore UNTO HIM.”

If we attentively read the Acts we become aware that the mass of believing Jews by no means broke their links with Judaism. They thought now to proceed with Christ AND Judaism. With many indeed it was a case of Judaism and Christ; for the outstanding feature with them was, “they are all zealous of the law,” rather than zealous for Christ. When this epistle was penned the hour had struck for a decisive move. It could no longer be Christ and Judaism. It had to be Christ OR Judaism. If they wanted CHRIST, then outside the camp to HIM they must go.

A few years passed and in the fall of Jerusalem the very heart of Judaism disappeared. Temple, altars, sacrifices, priests, all were swept away. The camp strictly speaking had gone. Are we to suppose that therefore this exhortation had lost all its force? By no means, for the Jews carried on some resemblance of their religion by means of Synagogues and Rabbis, and have done so to this day. They still have a camp of a sort, though not the camp as originally instituted of God. When a Jew is con­verted today, this exhortation without a question calls him out of his Judaism unto the rejected Christ as effectively as ever.

And what of that sad travesty of primitive Christianity which today is called Christendom? It has almost entirely organized itself after the pat­tern of the Jewish camp. It boasts its priests, its worldly sanctuaries and often its sacrifices. It rests upon a worldly basis and frequently encourages alliance with the world. Has this exhortation no voice to us in connection with this? Is it likely that God would begin by calling His people out of a religious system that He had originated Himself, and then end by expecting them to remain within religious systems which He never instituted, but which were created through long ages of unfaithfulness and decay? What a reviving we should see if every Christian really heard the cry, “Unto HIM without the camp,” and obeyed it !

Doubtless there are a thousand reasons against our obeying it. Here is one, “We should be isolating ourselves. It would be a dull and miserable business.” Would it? Why then does verse 15 go on to speak of praise and thanksgiving? Those who have gone forth to Christ without the camp are filled with praise and thanksgiving! They offer it by Him, for He is their High Priest, and they are exhorted to offer it continually. The Jewish camp had the silver trumpets and the high sounding cymbals without a doubt. But what were they worth? Christendom's camp has, without a question, magnificent organs and orchestras and lovely choirs. But what about, “the fruit of lips, confessing His name”? That is another matter, and that is the thing that counts!

Here is another objection, “We should be sacrificing all our oppor­tunities of doing good.” Should we? Why then does verse 16 speak of our doing good? The fact is that unlimited opportunities for doing real GOOD lie before those who are obedient, and instead of sacrificing their opportunities, they offer real sacrifice in doing good.

Again it may be said, “If you go outside the camp it will be all disorder and confusion.” What then about verse 17? These Hebrews, though coming outside the camp, would have leaders or guides, raised up of God, who would watch over them for their souls good. To such it would be a pleasure to submit. This does not look like disorder but rather the reverse.

Yet once more, it may be said, “But we need the outward framework of organization that the camp supplies. Without hurdles the sheep will always be straying.” But look at verses 20 and 21. Long before this, as recorded in John 10, the Lord Jesus had spoken of Himself as the Shepherd who had entered the Jewish fold in order that He might call His own sheep by name and lead them out. Now he is presented to us as the great Shep­herd of the sheep, raised again from the dead by the God of peace. In going forth unto Him they were but leaving the fold finally and forever, in order to come altogether under His authority and His shepherd care. They were coming to Him by whom they could be made perfect in every good work to do the will of God.

All this stands as true for us today as for the Hebrew believers of the first century. If we have gone forth to Him, who is our risen Shepherd, we have come to a place where Psalm 23 applies, with a fulness of meaning that David himself could never have known. Instead of knowing want we shall be like sheep who lie down in green pastures, because abundantly satisfied.

On this note the Epistle ends. The writer speaks of it as “a word of exhortation,” and such indeed it is. It is also “a letter ... in few words.” Though only two epistles exceed it in length yet it is indeed “in a few words” if we consider the magnitude and scope of its contents. If we have really taken in these “few words” we shall have received some knowledge of things which are so great that all eternity will not exhaust them.