This and That

There are a few housekeeping matters to which I have needed to attend. First of all, I have deleted all of Rey’s comments. That may make quite a few threads nonsensical, but now it means that his comments will no longer appear on the blog. They will be held for moderation, and hence deleted. He was warned that his comments would be deleted if he continued to post while under ban. Now, no doubt, he will play the innocent victim under the cruel tyrrany of those Reformed ideas. Let me just say that he was allowed a fairly free privilege of posting until he got to the point where anyone who didn’t share his Anabaptist sympathies were going to rot in hell. I don’t need that on my blog.

On an only slightly less frustrating level is the recent blowup over theonomy on this blog. Folks, it takes a fair bit to get me upset. I do not have a short fuse, especially on the internet. I have steadfastly sought to promote both peace and purity on the internet. The theonomists feel that Jeff went over the top in one of his comments. I feel that the theonomists went overboard in saying what they have said about every NAPARC denom that holds to the American revision of the WS. The Enlightenment, especially the form it took under Immanuel Kant, would have nothing to do even with the American revision of the WS, since it left in the most problematic thing: that we can in fact know the noumenal realm, as God has revealed it to us. That is the fundamental point of the Enlightenment in its Kantian form: we cannot know the noumenal realm. Anyone who says that any other point is the main point of the Kantian Enlightenment needs to go back and read his philosophy more. The Enlightenment would utterly repudiate the Westminster Standards, either in its original form, or in its American revision. So, it is hasty in the extreme to assert, as some have done, that all NAPARC denominations are basically heretical, because they accept the supposedly Enlightenment-revised form of the WS. Where is the evidence to support this conclusion, may I ask? Under the principle of innocent until proven guilty, I assert that NAPARC denoms are not guilty of caving in to the Enlightenment.

Book to Read for Reformation Day

I just finished Scott Clark’s new book Recovering the Reformed Confession. If one has to choose just one word to describe it, I would have to go with “invigorating.” And this describes the whole book, even though one might not agree with every part of the book. For instance, my differences with Clark would come in the area of the creation days (although I do not make the 24 hour view a test of orthodoxy), and in the area of exclusively inspired hymnody (he does not advocate exclusive Psalmody, but rather that we should sing hymns that are the biblical text, and from any part of Scripture), and in the area of instruments. He mounts arguments that would certainly be difficult to overcome for anyone who does disagree with him.

The book has a very simple structure: problem, then solution. The problem is two-fold, the quest for illegitimate religious certainty, or QIRC, abbreviated (and in this category, Clark attacks KJV only-ism as a test for orthodoxy, the denial of the free offer of the Gospel, the theology of glory that Luther attacked so vigorously, liquid modernity, 24-hour creation days as a test for orthodoxy, theonomy, and the Federal Vision); and the quest for illegitimate religious experience, or QIRE (and here he attacks pietism and revivalism mostly, as it seeks to escape the normal means of grace for an immediate experience of God. Jonathan Edwards, it should be noted, falls under Clark’s critique at this point, which would certainly be another controversial point). It should also be noted that Clark is very careful to distinguish between pietism and the piety of Reformed Confessional practice. The latter is based on the normal means of grace, whereas the former is based on direct experiences of God. Clark’s point here is that God’s grace is mediated today through the means of grace. We should therefore not seek to bypass those means of grace.

The solution part of the book, which is the longer section, has a number of proposals which are very intriguing. For instance (and this is the one which intrigues me the most), he advocates setting up a committee formed with members from all NAPARC denominations in order to draw up a new confession. He notes that, on average, the Reformed churches came out with a new major confession every six years. And it is certainly true that we need to confess our faith. Such a document would have to be consistent with with the six forms of unity we already have, of course. But that is probably why Clark advocates having members from all NAPARC denoms participating. I was thinking about this, and what might be the best way to proceed is to have a structure for this committee similar to the US governmental legislative branch. To have a “senate” where each denom has equal participation, and then have a “house” where larger denoms have more say. The confession of faith resulting would then have to pass both the “house” and the “senate.”

The reason this is important is that the word “Reformed” is being used today without reference to any fixed definition. Clark advocates using the word in the sense that the Reformed confessions define theology. This I agree with completely. There is no sense in using a word that can mean a hundred different things to a hundred different people. We do not want to have happen to this word what has happened to the word “evangelical,” and I think that is exactly what Clark is wanting to avoid.

One other point I want to bring up about the book is his comments about the evening worship service. First of all, his discussion of the Sabbath issue is tremendously helpful, and shows that it is way to facile to say that there is a “continental” view of the Sabbath as opposed to a “puritan” view. Clark shows that this simply was not the case. All one has to do is read Turretin and a’Brakel on the 4th commandment to know that Clark is right. Calvin did not bowl on the Sabbath day. The day was for worship. And an excellent barometer of the spiritual maturity of people is whether or not they attend evening worship.

This book is the book to give to people who want to understand where “TR”s” ( I hate that label, but it has stuck) are really coming from, and what their concerns are. It is a very exciting book to read, and I recommend it enthusiastically.

Back in Print

It’s good to see this book back in print after being out of print for a few years. It is a good supplement to Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics.

John Fesko on Justification

There has been a resurgence of interest in the Reformed doctrine of justification, especially since the advent of the New Perspective on Paul in the 60’s and 70’s with the publication of Krister Stendahl’s article on the introspective conscience of the West, and E.P. Sanders’s book Paul and Palestinian Judaism. There has been a flurry of responses written, especially in the last ten years, both from Lutherans and from Reformed folk. However, there has not been a single-volume book on the doctrine itself, written by one person, until now. And it is a wonderful book, full of good things. Probably the best single aspect about the book is Fesko’s determination to root justification in the history of salvation. Indeed, he winds up rooting the entire ordo salutis in the historia salutis. However, one can easily see that justification, in particular, must be grounded on the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, or we’re all lost.

Broadly speaking, one can divide up the book into five main parts. Chapters 1 and 2 are introductory, dealing with a broad outline of church history and issues of prolegomena (where Fesko ably defends the unity of theological discourse, one of my passions). Chapters 3-5 deal with justification and biblical theology (as defined in the Vossian sense), treating redemptive history, the covenant of works, and the work of Christ. Chapters 6-8 deal with church history, including a broad historical overview, and the New Perspective on Paul. Chapters 9-13 deal with systematic theological concerns, examining imputation, union, sanctification, the final judgment, and the church. And finally, chapters 14-15 deal with apologetics, with specific reference to the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. There is really only one thing missing, and John knows it is missing. I had a nice long talk with him about certain aspects of this book, and he was able to clarify many things for me, this one being one of them. I asked him why he did not include a history of the doctrine that focussed on the post-Reformation period of theology (a la Muller). He said that he had a chapter ready on that, but all the other chapters were already long, and he wanted to make sure that contemporary issues were handled. So, he has done his work in that field, but hasn’t put it in this book. Maybe he can write a supplementary pamphlet (or an article for a major journal) and include in it this material.

Let me just say that the treatment is masterful. He has plainly read just about everything that is important, and has dealt fairly and accurately with viewpoints differing from his own. I want to single out for special attention his handling of N.T. Wright’s exegetical arguments. After describing them accurately, he goes on to show why they are wrong, exegetically. Included is discussion of Wright’s definition of righteousness (pp. 221-223), exegesis of Romans 4:1-8, Psalm 106:31, 4Q MMT, 2 Corinthians 5:21, and Romans 5:12-21. These arguments are certainly convincing to me, and pose a serious challenge to Wright.

In short, I recommend this book enthusiastically, with two thumbs up. This is the best treatment of the doctrine by one writer since Buchanan.

Integrity Online

In an age where pastors are ever more tempted to live double lives, one public and spic-span, the other private, guilt-ridden, and sin-enslaved, we need the grace of God and practical suggestions as to how to keep our integrity online. This book looks helpful in this regard.

Chapter 19.4 of the Westminster Confession of Faith

Central to any discussion of whether or not theonomy is confessional (at least with regard to the WCF) is WCF 19.4. Here is what that section says:

To them (Israel, LK) also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

One must first ask the question of what “general equity” means. Whatever it means, it cannot refer to the entirety of the judicial laws. Otherwise, nothing “expired” whatsoever. Also senseless would be the statement “not obliging any other now” if general equity meant the whole of the judicial law. The impression that is given here is that general equity is considerably smaller than the judicial law. To say that general equity equals the entirety of the judicial law makes mince-meat of this section of the WCF.

So, if is not equal to the judicial law, then what does the phrase mean? We must look to context to see what that means. It is helpful here to see that the WCF regards Israel as the church under age (19.3). Now, let me be clear. I think that modern governments should rule justly, and in defining what is just, I use the Ten Commandments. It seems to me that many theonomists give us two choices: either be autonomous from God and have a civil government that has no relation to the law of God; or, conversely, have a theonomic government that governs according to all the judicial laws of the Old Testament. However, is there not a third option? Can not a government rule according to the Ten Commandments, but not according to all the Old Testament judicial regulations? That would not be autonomy, since it is based on God’s law, not man’s. At the point of law and determining what is just, I have more than a little sympathy for what theonomy has to say. Are we choosing man’s law or God’s? Which one is righteous? To ask the question is to answer it. However, the Ten Commandments simply do not apply the same way in the New Testament in all circumstances as they did in the Old Testament. And here is where I differ with theonomists, and this is where I feel they caricature the non-theonomic position most badly. There is no room in most theonomic minds for a government that rules according to the Ten Commandments, but not according to the Israel-specific judicial law. That is not even a possibility. I have yet to see a theonomic reckoning with this position. Therefore I interpret the term “general equity” to mean what comports with the Ten Commandments in a non-Israelite setting. Indeed, one could also equate the term “general equity” with the second use of the law, which is to restrain evil in the world. I do not feel that theonomic positions have interpreted WCF 19.4 correctly.

Is the Law/Gospel Distinction Only Lutheran? Part 3

Part 1; Part 2

Also of great interest here is Scott Clark’s collection of quotations from the Reformed orthodox available here. Even if that were all that were available, it would bury the contention that the Law/Gospel distinction is only Lutheran. Most important, of course, are the confessional documents for answering this question (Clark has quite a few of those quoted). I wish I had Dennison already to help me with this (and I also fervently wish the other two volumes were already out!). At least I have still have Schaff.

The Second Helvetic Confession, chapter 12 deals with the law, and plainly affirms the first use of the law (which is that most closely associated with the Law/Gospel distinction), and further distinguishes when it says “We know that the Scripture of the law, if it be expounded by the Gospel, is very profitable to the Church, and that therefore the reading of it is not to be banished out of the Church” (Schaff, p. 856). As has already been noted, the Heidelberg Catechism clearly affirms the Law/Gospel distinction (certainly that is how Ursinus, one of the two authors of the Catechism, understood it).

French Confession, article 23 (Schaff, pp. 372-373): “We believe that the ordinances of the law came to an end at the advent of Jesus Christ; but, although the ceremonies are no more in use, yet their substance and truth remain in the person of him in whom they are fulfilled. And, moreover, we must seek aid from the law and the prophets for the ruling of our lives, as well as for our confirmation in the promises of the gospel.” Then, following this section, in article 25, we see this: “Now as we enjoy Christ only through the gospel…” (p. 374). Very similarly, the Belgic Confession, article 25, which did model itself at least somewhat off the French Confession.

The Marrow of Modern Divinity clearly equates the law with the covenant of works and the gospel with the covenant of grace (see pp. 27ff.). Quoting Musculus, “for it is manifest, says Musculus, that the word which signifies covenant, or bargain, is put for law: so that you see the law of works is as much as to say, the covenant of works.” It should be noted here that the Marrow has an excellent way of understanding the continuity between the covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant. The Ten Commandments are described as the matter of the covenant of works. It cannot properly be called the covenant of works (as it is given in Exodus 20) because it does not have the form of the covenant of works (in terms of the agreement). See pp. 28-29.

Thomas Ridgely’s commentary on the Larger Catechism (p. 303): “Hence arises a clear sight of the need which persons have of Christ, and of the perfection of his obedience. When we find that we are condemned by the law, and that righteousness is not to be attained by our own obedience to it, we are led to see our need of seeking it elsewhere; and when the gospel gives us a discovery of Christ, as ordained by God to procure for us righteousness, or a right to eternal life by his obedience, we see the need we have of faith in him, whereby we derive from him that which could not be attained by our own conformity to the law.”

And John Colquhoun (for these quotations and analysis, I simply copied and pasted from Donald MacLean’s email to me. Donald MacLean’s blog is here):
1) The law is necessary from the nature of God but the gospel is voluntary. (146-7). 2) The law is partly revealed by nature (Rom 2:14-15) but he gospel is only known by revelation from heaven (Matt 11:27). (147). 3) The law comes and demands perfect obedience the gospel comes and shows the grace and mercy of God to sinners. (147-8). 4) The law shows us what we should be but “The gospel teaches us how we may be made such, namely by union and communion with Christ…” (148). 5) The law says, “Do and you shall live; you shall, by performing personal and perfect obedience, entitle yourselves to eternal life…'” but “The gospel says ‘Live, for all is already done; all the righteousness, meritoriousness of eternal life for believers, is already fulfilled by the second Adam…'” (148).  He expands on this: “The Law is God in a command, but the Gospel is God in Christ, God in a promise.  The law gives man more to do for eternal life than they are able to do; the gospel gives them less to do than they are willing to do.  The law gives man all the work: the gospel gives grace all the work and all the glory.”  (149). 6) The promises of the law are “conditional” but the promises of the gospel (as a covenant) are “absolute”. (150-1). 7) The law “condemns , and cannot justify a sinner” but the gospel “justifies, and cannot condemn the sinner who believes in Jesus.” (150-1). 8) The law “says to every man, ‘You are a sinner’.  The gospel says, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.'” (151-2). 9) The law hardens (Rom 4:15) while the gospel softens the heart. (152). 10) The law allows for boasting but the gospel excludes it (Rom 3:27). (152-3). Colquhoun also notes we should not confound law/gospel with old/new testament (153-5).  He closes his chapter by applying the truths he has discussed stating, “None can successfully minister true consolation to a discouraged and disconsolate believer without teaching his to distinguish, in his own case, between the law and the gospel.” (157).

Donald MacLean also has a couple of other posts on this subject well worth pursuing here and here.

A Question for Theonomists

I know that I have at least two theonomists who regularly read my blog, and so this is a question addressed to them. The sin of idolatry, in the Old Testament, was punishable by death. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Hindus, and many other religions practice idolatry. One can even make the case that Muslims and Jews are idolaters, since they do not worship Jesus Christ as God.

America was founded on a principle of liberty of religion. The issues get complicated in a hurry, of course, but my question is this: if Christian Reconstruction were to win out in America, does that mean that the members of these other religions should be executed? Or is the principle of death for idolatry changed in the NT, according to theonomists?

Treasures New and Old

Matthew 13:51-53


One voice teacher for whose students I did a lot of accompanying had this sign in her house: “Neat people never make the exciting discoveries I do.” Of course, what she meant was that old treasures were constantly being found. The fresh discovery of something that you thought you had lost s a very exciting discovery. It is perhaps equally exciting to go to a garage sale or an estate auction and find some old antique that is worth something and is going for a bargain price. And so you get a bargain on something. I imagine that there are few things in life that are more fun for Dutch farmers than finding a bargain. It is similar with the Bible, however. There are treasures and jewels rich and rare, as the hymn we sang has it. There are treasures in the Scripture waiting for us to discover. They can only come with digging and hard work. I’m sure that those of us who like to go to sales are quite willing to put up with the high gas prices, the time it takes to get there, especially if you get there early in the morning before all the good deals are gone. There is a certain amount of effort required in treasure hunting via garage sales. It takes work, and it often takes patience in order to find the really good deals. The same thing is true of God’s Word. Those treasures are not there on a bare reading, necessarily. Some lie closer to the surface and are easy to find and pick up. Others, however, take a little digging, a little work, and a little patience. They are more than worth it. It is a far better bargain than anything at a garage sale could hope to equal.

Jesus starts out this passage with a question about all these parables. We have found that parables are not easy to interpret properly. It takes some work and dedication. So when Jesus asks the disciples whether or not they have understood these things, I think the disciples are a little too quick to answer yes. They don’t understand the nature of the kingdom of God even after Jesus is raised from the dead. We see that in Acts chapter 1, where they ask Jesus if He is going to restore Israel at this time. So, they probably do not understand the parables as well as they think do, at least not at this time. This is important for understanding what Jesus says to them next.

Jesus, in effect, is saying that the Bible is inexhaustible in its wealth of wisdom. The disciples have a good start, perhaps. But they have a long way to go. In other words, they cannot simply hear or read what Jesus says once, and then claim to understand all of it. Similarly, we cannot claim to understand everything about the Bible once we have read it once or twice, or even thirty or forty times. People go to schools called seminaries in order to learn more about the Word. You can get doctorates in interpreting the Bible, and yet great scholars do not understand everything about the Bible either. Does this mean that we cannot hope to understand anything about the Bible? Of course not. The Reformation has always said that everything we need to know for salvation is clearly revealed in Scripture, and is on the surface. We don’t need to dig for that so deeply. Sometimes, one time reading that is all we need. But of course, we need to know more than just the surface meaning of the text if we are going to be mature Christians.

Now, notice that Jesus is talking primarily about teachers here. He says, “every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is talking primarily here about Jewish teachers of the law. They are the shepherds of the people. They already know about the Old Testament. They have studied the Old Testament so that they are teachers. But there is something else that they need to learn. They need to know about the kingdom of heaven. They learn about that in the New Testament. This is probably what Jesus means when He says new treasures as well as old. The new treasures refers to the New Testament, the new revelation that comes at the time of Jesus, and describes Him as being the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Of course, when Jesus said this, none of the New Testament had been written down yet. Nevertheless, Jesus knew that the New Testament would be written down, and that the kingdom of heaven would be the subject matter of it. The old treasures, then, refers to the Old Testament.

Here we see the importance of the Old Testament for believers. Nothing is more disturbing to me in the church today than to see that people do not read their Old Testaments very much. It is no accident that the Old Testament is ¾ of our Bible! Yes, the New Testament is more dense in information. That is why I simply cannot preach on a whole chapter of any New Testament book at one time, and will probably never do so. In the Old Testament, however, this happens frequently. Nevertheless, the Old Testament is not less important than the New Testament. It is all God’s word. 2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” Paul wrote that and was referring primarily to the Old Testament, since those were the Scriptures of the first generations of Christians while the New Testament was still being written. In our modern culture, however, anything that is old is bad. New is better. So the Old Testament gets ignored. That’s really a shame, since it is only in the Old Testament that we learn what humanity’s problem is and why we need Jesus. In the Old Testament we have also the law of God, which is to be our delight, as David says in Psalm 119. In the Old Testament we see the reliability of God, as He fulfills prophecy in Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 10 also, Paul tells us that all these things in the Old Testament were written down for our instruction. And in 1 Peter chapter 1, which we looked at a few weeks ago, Peter tells us that the Old Testament prophets knew that they were serving us when they wrote what they wrote. So there is no reason at all to neglect the Old Testament.

I think the main problem for us in approaching the Old Testament is that it is more foreign to us than the New Testament. It seems to be darker and more difficult to understand. All the more reason to take the torch of the New Testament and enter the storehouse of the Old Testament with that torch of the New Testament. For that is the way in which we can understand the Old Testament. We understand it in the light of the New Testament. When we do that, all sorts of treasures will pop out at us, all sorts of treasures that are old in one sense, and yet new to us.

As a pastor, digging up these treasures is really what I do with most of my time. There are not many passages in Scripture that directly address what a pastor is to do, and explains what they do. This passage is one of them, and so I would like to talk also about what I do. Most of you do not see what goes on in the office when I am there. It would be very easy to think that what I do in the office is not all that important. But let me describe to you what happens when I write a sermon. The first thing I do is to read the passage in the original Hebrew or Greek. This is why I spent years in college and seminary learning Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. It is never wise for a pastor to be dependent on a human, fallible translation. By reading the passage in the original language, I mean that I look up every word I don’t know in a lexicon, which is a dictionary of Hebrew or Greek. I then look up the word in every resource I possess, which is about three or four dictionaries. When I have the definition of each word well in hand, then I go to the grammars, and see if there are any particular grammatical difficulties in the passage. After that, I look up the passage in other kinds of dictionaries to see if they shed any light on the passage by talking about cultural background or historical background. I look up any figures of speech that might be in the passage, and whatever idioms might be used. Only after this work is done do I turn to the commentators. I usually read about thirty to forty commentaries on a given passage on which I am preaching. For instance, on this passage, I read thirty four commentaries. You might ask why so many? I have found that sometimes, the very last commentary I read has the most insight, and has something that all the other commentaries miss. Even the worst commentaries I read have an insight somewhere that everyone else missed. I want to have the fullest, richest understanding of the passage that I can possibly have. And that is not the only reading that a pastor should be doing. He needs to read church history, systematic theology, apologetics (that’s defending the faith), and practical theology in order to stay fresh with new insights taken from other areas of theology. A pastor needs to be up to date on what is happening in the world, so that the Word can be always applicable to where we find ourselves. On average it takes about 10-15 hours of research for one sermon, and that does not include the writing of the sermon. The writing of the sermon takes another 1-2 hours. So the average time for 1 sermon is about 12-17 hours, with most of the work being the preparation.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it is certainly not in order for you to say “what a scholar our pastor is.” If I actually were a great scholar, I would not need so much help! I tell you this so that you can appreciate how difficult it is to dig up these treasures old and new. I tell you this so that you will love the Word of God preached. I tell you this so that you will know how much I love this congregation. For all this work is not for myself, even though I learn so much in doing this. All this work is so that I can preach the very best sermons I can possibly preach so that you who listen will get the most out of it that you possibly can. Scholarship is not defined by how well one can quote other authors. If you listen carefully, you will find that I do not quote other authors very much. Scholarship is defined as being able to take something that is complicated and make it so that anyone can understand it. That is what I aspire to do, and to that I feel called as a pastor. I pour myself into sermon preparation the same way a cook takes great care to make the very tastiest and healthiest dish for those who will eat it. Those cooks who value what they do and desire to do the very best job they can, all for the glory of God, will be the best cooks. Those who simply slap dash a meal together and do not take the time for preparation may have other priorities in life, but cooking is not one of them. I believe that the most important thing for Christian growth and maturity is in understanding and applying the Word of God to the believer. That is what God Himself has described as the primary means of grace. That is how God speaks to us.

This means that we should listen to sermons expecting to receive treasure from God. That should be our attitude in listening to God’s Word. Taking notes is a great way of retaining what you have learned. Many people keep a diary of sermons, where they jot down all the important things of the sermon. That way they can make use of those sermons later on. Some people take notes in their Bible which they bring to church. That way, whenever they read that passage again, they can remember what the passage means. It makes sense to have some sort of way to retain these treasures. Would you find a great deal at a garage sale, buy it, and then immediately throw it away? And yet, we can come to the sermon, listen to it, and then immediately forget what God said to us. James talks about this in his letter. He says, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it- he will be blessed in what he does.” Another great way to listen to the sermon is to discuss the sermon over the noon meal, or after the service, in the case of an evening sermon. You can discuss ways in which the sermon applies to your life, and increase the number of applications. It is not possible to include all the ways that a text could apply. And it is not really the pastor’s job to spell them all out. He is to give indications of where and how, with examples. But it is the people’s job to apply it to their hearts and minds and then go and do it. If we do these things, then we will be blessed, and will be retaining all those treasures old and new from the text of Scripture.

Three New BECNT Volumes

Baker Books is producing three entire volumes in their stellar commentary series, the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. 1-3 John (actually published, and WTS bookstore is only waiting for their next Baker shipment to arrive), 2 Peter/Jude, and Mark. With these three volumes being published, there are only 8 volumes left (depending on whether they take the Pastoral Epistles in one volume) in the series, the quality of which has been uniformly high, and at least one volume has become the definitive commentary on its book (Bock on Luke). In my opinion, pastors should own the complete set.

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