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§ 9. Immediate Imputation.
It being admitted that the race of man participates in the evil consequences of the fall of our first parent, that fact is accounted for on different theories.
1. That which is adopted by Protestants generally, as well Lutherans as Reformed, and also by the great body of the Latin Church is, that in virtue of the union, federal and natural, between 193Adam and his posterity, his sin, although not their act, is so imputed to them that it is the judicial ground of the penalty threatened against him coming also upon them. This is the doctrine of immediate imputation.
2. Others, while they admit that a corrupt nature is derived from Adam by all his ordinary posterity, yet deny, first, that this corruption or spiritual death is a penal infliction for his sin; and second, that there is any imputation to Adam’s descendants of the guilt of his first sin. All that is really imputed to them is their own inherent, hereditary depravity. This is the doctrine of mediate imputation.
3. Others discard entirely the idea of imputation, so far as Adam’s sin is concerned, and refer the hereditary corruption of men to the general law of propagation. Throughout the vegetable and animal kingdoms, like begets like. Man is not an exception to that law. Adam having lost his original righteousness and corrupted his nature by his apostasy, transmits that despoiled and deteriorated nature to all his descendants. To what extent man’s nature is injured by the fall, is left undetermined by this theory. According to some it is so deteriorated as to be in the true Scriptural sense of the term, spiritually dead, while according to others, the injury is little if anything more than a physical infirmity, an impaired constitution which the first parent has transmitted to his children.
4. Others again adopt the realistic theory, and teach that as generic humanity existed whole and entire in the persons of Adam and Eve, their sin was the sin of the entire race. The same numerical rational and voluntary substance which acted in our first parents, having been communicated to us, their act was as truly and properly our act, being the act of our reason and will, as it was their act. It is imputed to us therefore not as his, but as our own. We literally sinned in Adam, and consequently the guilt of that sin is our personal guilt and the consequent corruption of nature is the effect of our own voluntary act.
5. Others, finally, deny any causal relation, whether logical or natural, whether judicial or physical, between the sin of Adam and the sinfulness of his race. Some who take this ground say that it was a divine constitution, that, if Adam sinned, all men should sin. The one event was connected with the other only in the divine purpose. Others say that there is no necessity to account for the fact that all men are sinners, further than by referring no their liberty of will. Adam sinned, and other men sin. That is all. The one fact us as easily accounted for as the other.194
Statement of the Doctrine of Immediate Imputation.
The first of the above mentioned doctrines is that presented in the Symbols of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches, and by the great body of the theologians of those great historical branches of the Protestant community.203203As at the time of the Reformation an influential party in the Romish Church held, after some of the schoolmen, that original sin consists solely in the imputation of Adam’s first sin, and as the Confessions of the Reformers were designed not only as an exhibition of the truth but as a protest against the errors of the Church of Rome, it will be observed that the Protestants frequently assert that original sin is not only the imputation of Adam’s sin but also hereditary corruption of nature; and the Reformed theologians often made the latter more prominent than the former, because the one was admitted by their adversaries, but the other denied. What that doctrine is may be stated in few words. To impute is simply to attribute to, as we are said to impute good or bad motives to anyone. In the juridical and theological sense of the word, to impute is to attribute anything to a person or persons, upon adequate grounds, as the judicial or meritorious reason of reward or punishment, i.e., of the bestowment of good or the infliction of evil. The most elaborate discussion of the Hebrew word חָשַׁב and the Greek λογίζομαι, used in Scripture in relation to this subject, gives nothing beyond the simple result above mentioned.
1. To impute is to reckon to, or to lay to one’s account. So far as the meaning of the word is concerned, it makes no difference whether the thing imputed be sin or righteousness; whether it is our own personally, or the sin or righteousness of another.
2. To impute sin, in Scriptural and theological language, is to impute the guilt of sin. And by guilt is meant not criminality or moral ill-desert, or demerit, much less moral pollution, but the judicial obligation to satisfy justice. Hence the evil consequent on the imputation is not an arbitrary infliction; not merely a misfortune or calamity; not a chastisement in the proper sense of that word, but a punishment, i.e., an evil inflicted in execution of the penalty of law and for the satisfaction of justice.
3. A third remark in elucidation of what is meant by the imputation of Adam’s sin is, that by all theologians, Reformed and Lutheran, it is admitted, that in the imputation of Adam’s sin to us, of our sins to Christ, and of Christ’s righteousness to believers, the nature of imputation is the same, so that the one case illustrates the others. When it is said that our sins were imputed to Christ, or that He bore our sins, it is not meant that he actually committed our sins, or that He was morally criminal on account of them, or that the demerit of them rested upon Him. All that is meant is 195that He assumed, in the language of the older theologians, “our law-place.” He undertook to answer the demands of justice for the sins of men, or, as it is expressed by the Apostle, to be made a curse for them. In like manner, when it is said that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers, it does not mean that they wrought out that righteousness, that they were the agents of the acts of Christ in obeying the law; nor that the merit of his righteousness is their personal merit; nor that it constitutes their moral character; it simply means that his righteousness, having been wrought out by Christ for the benefit of his people, in their name, by Him as their representative, it is laid to their account, so that God can be just in justifying the ungodly. Much of the difficulty on this subject arises from the ambiguity of language. The words righteous and unrighteous have two distinct meanings. Sometimes they express moral character. A righteous man is an upright or good man. At other times, these words do not express moral character, but simply relation to justice. In this sense a righteous man is one with regard to whom the demands of justice are satisfied. He may be personally unrighteous (or ungodly) and legally righteous. If this were not so, no sinner could be saved. There is not a believer on earth who does not feel and acknowledge himself to be personally unrighteous, ill-deserving, meriting the wrath and curse of God. Nevertheless he rejoices in the assurance that the infinitely meritorious righteousness of Christ, his full atonement for all sin, constitutes Him legally, not morally, righteous in the sight of divine justice. When, therefore, God pronounces the unrighteous to be righteous, He does not declare them to be what they are not. He simply declares that their debt to justice has been paid by another. And when it is said that the sin of Adam is imputed to his posterity, it is not meant that they committed his sin, or were the agents of his act, nor is it meant that they are morally criminal for his transgression; that it is for them the ground of remorse and self-reproach; but simply that in virtue of the union between him and his descendants, his sin is the judicial ground of the condemnation of his race, precisely as the righteousness of Christ is the judicial ground of the justification of his people. So much for the statement of the question.
It is no less a doctrine of Scripture than a fact of experience that mankind are a fallen race. Men universally, under all the circumstances of their being in this world, are sinful, and exposed to innumerable evils. Many of these, and that in many instances 196the most appalling, come upon the children of men in early infancy anterior to any possible transgressions of their own. This is a fact which cannot be denied; and for which the human mind has tortured itself to find a solution. The Scriptural solution of this fearful problem is, that God constituted our first parent the federal head and representative of his race, and placed him on probation not only for himself, but also for all his posterity. Had he retained his integrity, he and all his descendants would have been confirmed in a state of holiness and happiness forever. As he fell from the estate in which he was created, they fell with him in his first transgression, so that the penalty of that sin came upon them as well as upon him. Men therefore stood their probation in Adam. As he sinned, his posterity come into the world in a state of sin and condemnation. They are by nature the children of wrath. The evils which they suffer are not arbitrary impositions, nor simply the natural consequences of his apostasy, but judicial inflictions. The loss of original righteousness, and death spiritual and temporal under which they commence their existence, are the penalty of Adam’s first sin. We do not say that this solution of the problem of man’s sinfulness and misery, is without its difficulties; for the ways of God are past finding out. But it may be confidently asserted, first, that it is the Scriptural solution of that problem; and secondly, that it is far more satisfactory to the reason, the heart, and the conscience, than any other solution which the ingenuity of man has ever suggested. This is proved by its general acceptance in the Christian Church.
The Ground of the Imputation of Adam’s Sin.
The ground of the imputation of Adam’s sin, or the reason why the penalty of his sin has come upon all his posterity, according to the doctrine above stated, is the union between us and Adam. There could of course be no propriety in imputing the sin of one man to another unless there were some connection between them to explain and justify such imputation. The Scriptures never speak of the imputation of the sins of angels either to men or to Christ, or of his righteousness to them; because there is no such relation between men and angels, or between angels and Christ, as to involve the one in the judicial consequences of the sin or righteousness of the other. The union between Adam and his posterity which is the ground of the imputation of his sin to them, is both natural and federal. He was their natural head. Such is the relation between parent and child, not only in the case of 197Adam and his descendants, but in all other cases, that the character and conduct of the one, of necessity to a greater or less degree affect the other. No fact in history is plainer than that children bear the iniquities of their fathers. They suffer for their sins. There must be a reason for this; and a reason founded in the very constitution of our nature. But there was something peculiar in the case of Adam. Over and beyond this natural relation which exists between a man and his posterity, there was a special divine constitution by which he was appointed the head and representative of his whole race.
Adam the Federal Head of his Race.
1. The first argument, therefore, in favour of the doctrine of imputation is that the Scriptures present Adam as not only the natural, but also the federal head of his posterity. This is plain, as already remarked, from the narrative given in Genesis. Everything there said to Adam was said to him in his representative capacity. The promise of life was for him and for his seed after him. The dominion within which he was invested, belonged to his posterity as well as to himself. All the evils threatened against him in case of transgression, included them, and have in fact come upon them. They are mortal; they have to earn their bread by the sweat of their brows; they are subject to all the inconveniences and sufferings arising from the banishment of our first parents from paradise and from the curse pronounced for man’s sake upon the earth. They no less obviously are born into the world destitute of original righteousness and subject to spiritual death. The full penalty, therefore, threatened against Adam, has been inflicted upon them. It was death with the promise of redemption. Now that these evils are penal in our case as well as in his, is plain, because punishment is suffering inflicted in execution of a threatening, and for the satisfaction of justice. It matters not what that suffering may be. Its character as penalty depends not on its nature, but upon the design of its infliction. One man, as before remarked, may be shut up in a prison to protect him from popular violence; another, in execution of a legal sentence. In one case the imprisonment is a favour, in the other, it is a punishment. As therefore, the evils which men suffer on account of the sin of Adam, are inflicted in execution of the penalty threatened against him, they are as truly penal in our case as they were in his; and he was consequently treated as the federal head and representative of his race. Besides the plain assumption of the truth of this 198federal relation, it is expressly asserted in the Word of God. The parallel drawn by the Apostle between Adam and Christ relates precisely to this point. Adam was the type of Him who was to come, because as the one was the representative of his race, so the other is the representative of his people. And the consequences of the relation are shown to be in like manner analogous. It was because Adam was the representative of his race, that his sin is the judicial ground of their condemnation; and it is because Christ is the representative of his people, that his righteousness is the judicial ground of the justification of believers.
The Representative Principle in the Scriptures.
2. This representative principle pervades the whole Scriptures. The imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity is not an isolated fact. It is only an illustration of a general principle which characterizes the dispensations of God from the beginning of the world. God declared himself to Moses to be, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity amid transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children unto the third and to the fourth generation.” (Ex. xxxiv. 6, 7.) Jeremiah says: “Thou showest loving-kindness unto thousands. and recompensest the iniquities of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them. The Great, the Mighty God, the Lord of Hosts, is his name.” (Jer. xxxii. 18.) The curse pronounced on Canaan fell upon his posterity. Esau’s selling his birthright, shut out his descendants from the covenant of promise. The children of Moab and Ammon were excluded from the congregation of the Lord forever, because their ancestors opposed the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. In the case of Dathan and Abiram, as in that of Achan, “their wives, and their sons, and their little children” perished for the sins of their parents. God said to Eli that the iniquity of his house should not be purged with sacrifice and offering forever. To David it was said, “The sword shall never depart from thy house; because thou hast despised me, and mast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.” To the disobedient Gehazi it was said: “The leprosy of Naaman shall cleave unto thee and unto thy seed forever.” The sin of Jereboam and of the men of his generation determined the destiny of the ten tribes for all time. The imprecation of the Jews, when they demanded the crucifixion of Christ. “His blood be on us and 199on our children,” still weighs down the scattered people of Israel. Our Lord himself said to the Jews of his generation that they built the sepulchres of the prophets whom their fathers had slain, and thus acknowledged themselves to be the children of murderers, and that therefore the blood of those prophets should be required at their hands. This principle runs through the whole Scriptures. When God entered into covenant with Abraham, it was not for himself only but also for his posterity. They were bound by all the stipulations of that covenant. They shared its promises and its threatenings, and in hundreds of cases the penalty of disobedience came upon those who had no personal part in the transgressions. Children suffered equally with adults in the judgments, whether famine, pestilence, or war, which came upon the people for their sins. In like manner, when God renewed and enlarged the Abrahamic covenant at Mount Sinai, it was made with the adults of that generation as representing their descendants to the remotest generations. And the Jews to this day are suffering the penalty of the sins of their fathers for their rejection of Him of whom Moses and the prophets spoke. The whole plan of redemption rests on this same principle. Christ is the representative of his people, and on this ground their sins are imputed to Him and his righteousness to them. In like manner, in the baptismal covenant, the parent acts for the child, and binds him without the child’s consent, and the destiny of the child is, as a general rule, suspended on the fidelity of the parent. No man who believes the Bible, can shut his eyes to the fact that it everywhere recognizes the representative character of parents, and that the dispensations of God have from the beginning been founded on the principle that children bear the iniquities of their fathers. This is one of the reasons which infidels assign for rejecting the divine origin of the Scriptures. But infidelity furnishes no relief. History is as full of this doctrine as the Bible is. The punishment of the felon involves his family in his disgrace and misery. The spendthrift and drunkard entail poverty and wretchedness upon all connected within them. There is no nation now existing on the face of the earth, whose condition for weal or woe is not largely determined by the character and conduct of their ancestors. If, unable to solve the mysteries of Providence, we plunge into Atheism, we only increase a thousand fold the darkness by which we are surrounded. It is easier to believe that all things are guided by infinite reason and goodness, and are certain to result in the highest glory of God, and in the highest blessedness of the universe, than 200to believe that this vast aggregate of sin and misery is the working of blind force without purpose and without end.
If the fact be admitted that we bear the consequences of Adam’s sin, and that children suffer for the iniquities of their fathers, it may be said that this is not to be referred to the justice of God, but to the undesigned working of a general law, which in despite of incidental evil, is on the whole beneficent. The difficulty on that assumption instead of being lessened, is only increased. On either theory the nature and the degree of suffering are the same. The innocence of the sufferers is the same. The only difference relates to the question, Why they suffer for offences of which they are not personally guilty? The Bible says these sufferings are judicial; they are inflicted as punishment for the support of law. Others say, they are merely natural consequences, or arbitrary inflictions of a sovereign. If a king should put the children of a rebel to death, would it relieve his conduct from reproach to say that it was an act of arbitrary sovereignty? If the prevention of crime be one important end of punishment (although not its primary end), would it not be a relief to say, that the death of the children was designed to prevent other parents from rebelling? That the execution of the children of a criminal by a human sovereign would be a cruel and unjust punishment, may be admitted, while it is, and must be denied, that it is unjust in God that he should visit the iniquities of the fathers upon their children. In the first place no human sovereign has the right over his subjects which belongs to God over his creatures as their Creator. And in the second place, no human sovereign has the power and wisdom to secure the highest good from the penalties which he attaches to the violations of law. We cannot infer that because a course of action would be wrong in man, therefore it must be unjust in God. No man could rightfully send pestilence or famine through a land, but God does send such visitations not only righteously, but to the manifestation of his own glory and to the good of his creatures.
The same Principle involved in other Doctrines.
That the sin of Adam is imputed to his posterity is proved not only (1.) From the fact that he was their natural head and representative; and (2.) From the fact that this principle of representation pervades the Scriptures; and (3.) From the fact that it is the ground on which the providence of God is administered. (4.) From the fact that evils consequent on the apostasy of Adam are expressly declared in Scripture to be penal inflictions 201put also (5.) From the fact that the principle of imputation is involved in other great doctrines of the Bible. The assumption that one man cannot righteously, under the government of God, be punished for the sins of another, is not only contrary, as we have seen to the express declarations of Scripture and to the administration of the divine government from the beginning, but it is subversive of the doctrines of atonement and justification. The idea ot the transfer of guilt or of vicarious punishment lies at the foundation of all the expiatory offerings under the Old Testament, and of the great atonement under the new dispensation. To bear sin, is in Scriptural language to bear the penalty of sin. The victim bore the sin of the offerer. Hands were imposed upon the head of the animal about to be slaughtered, to express the transfer of guilt. That animal must be free from all defect or blemish to make it the more apparent that its blood was shed not for its own deficiencies but for the sin of another. All this was symbolical and typical. There could be no real transfer of guilt made to an irrational animal, and no real atonement made by its blood. But these services were significant. They were intended to teach these great truths: (1.) That the penalty of sin was death. (2.) That sin could not be pardoned without an atonement. (3.) That atonement consists in vicarious punishment. The innocent takes the place of the guilty and bears the penalty in his stead. This is the idea attached to expiatory offerings in all ages and among all nations. This is the idea inculcated in every part of the Bible. And this is what the Scriptures teach concerning the atonement of Christ. He bore our sins; He was made a curse for us; He suffered the penalty of the law in our stead. All this proceeds on the ground that the sins of one man can be justly, on some adequate ground, imputed to another. In justification the same radical idea is included. Justification is not a subjective change in the moral state of the sinner; it is not mere pardon; it is not simply pardon and restoration to favour, as when a rebel is forgiven and restored to the enjoyment of his civil rights. It is a declaration that the demands of justice have been satisfied. It proceeds on the assumption that the righteousness which the law requires belongs either personally and inherently, or by imputation, to the person who is justified, or declared to be just. There is a logical connection, therefore, between the denial of the imputation of Adam’s sin, and the denial of the Scriptural doctrines of atonement and justification. The objections urged against the former bear equally against the latter doctrines. And it is a matter of history that those who reject the one, reject also the others.202
Argument from Romans v. 12-21.
The Apostle in Romans v. 12-21 teaches this doctrine in the most formal and explicit manner. The design of that passage is to illustrate the method of salvation. The Apostle had taught that all men are sinners, and the whole world guilty before God. All men being under the condemnation of the law, it is impossible that they should be justified by the law. The same law cannot both justify and condemn the same persons. As therefore no flesh can be justified by the works of the law, God sent his Son for our salvation. He assumed our nature, took our place, and obeyed and suffered in our stead, and thus wrought out for us a perfect and infinitely meritorious righteousness. On the ground of that righteousness, God can now be just in justifying the ungodly, if, renouncing their own righteousness, they receive and trust upon this righteousness of God, freely offered to them in the Gospel. The fundamental doctrine of the Epistle to the Romans, as it is the fundamental doctrine of the Gospel, is, therefore, that the righteousness of one man, even Christ, can be and is so imputed to believers as to be the meritorious ground of their justification at the bar of God. To make this doctrine the more plain to his readers, the Apostle refers to the analogous case of the condemnation of the human race for the sin of Adam; and shows that as the sin of Adam is the judicial ground of the condemnation of all who were in him, i.e., of all represented by him, so the obedience of Christ is the judicial ground of the justification of all who are in Him. In the prosecution of his plan he first asserts the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity. He then proves it. He then comments upon it. He then applies it; and finally draws inferences from it. Thus in every possible way, as it would seem, he sets forth the doctrine as part of the revelation of God. The assertion of the doctrine is contained in the twelfth verse of the chapter. It was by one man, He says, that sin and death passed upon all men; because all sinned. They sinned through, or in, that one man. His sin was the sin of all in virtue of the union between them and him. The proof of this doctrine is contained in verses thirteen and fourteen. The Apostle argues thus: Punishment supposes sin; sin supposes law; for sin is not imputed where there is no law. All men are punished; they are all subject to penal evils. They are, therefore, all chargeable with sin, and consequently are all guilty of violation of law. That law cannot be the law of Moses, for men died (i.e., were subject to the penalty of the law) before that law was given. 203It cannot be the law as written on the heart; for those die who have never committed any personal sin. There are penal evils, therefore, which come upon all mankind prior to anything in their state or conduct to merit such infliction. The ground of that infliction must therefore be sought out of themselves, i.e., in the sin of their first parent. Hence Adam is the type of Christ. As the one is the head and representative of his race, so the other is the head and representative of his people. As the sin of the one is the ground of the condemnation of his posterity, so the righteousness of the other is the ground of the justification of all who are in him. But although there is this grand analogy between the fall and the redemption of man, there are nevertheless certain points of difference, all in favour of the scheme of redemption. If we die for the offence of one man, much more shall grace abound unto many through one man. If for one offence the sentence of condemnation passed on all, the free justification is from many offences. If condemned for a sin in which we had no personal and voluntary participation, how much more shall we live on account of a righteousness, which we cordially receive. Wherefore, continues the Apostle, in the application of his illustration, if all men (in union with Adam) are condemned by the offence of one man, so also all (in union with Christ) shall be justified on the ground of the righteousness of one man. As one man’s disobedience constituted us sinners, so the obedience of one man constitutes us righteous, (verses 18 and 19). From these premises the Apostle draws two conclusions: First, that the law was not designed for justification, but that sin might abound in the knowledge and consciousness of men; and secondly, that where sin hath abounded grace shall much more abound. The benefits and blessings of redemption shall far exceed all the evils of the apostasy.
Whatever may be thought of the details of this exposition, there can hardly he a doubt that it expresses the main idea of the passage. Few can doubt, and few ever have doubted, that the Apostle does here clearly teach that the sin of Adam is the judicial ground of the condemnation of his race. With this agrees not only, as we have already seen, the Scriptural account of the fall, but also what the Apostle teaches in 1 Cor. xv. 21, 22. “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Union with Adam is the cause of death; union with Christ is the cause of life.204
Argument from General Consent.
The imputation of Adam’s sin has been the doctrine of the Church universal in all ages. It was the doctrine of the Jews, derived from the plain teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures. It was and is the doctrine of the Greek, Latin, Lutheran, and Reformed churches. Its denial is a novelty. It is only since the rise of Arminianism that any considerable body of Christians have ventured to set themselves in opposition to a doctrine so clearly taught in the Bible, and sustained by so many facts of history and experience. The points of diversity in reference to this subject do not relate to the fact that Adam’s sin is imputed to his posterity, but either to the grounds of that imputation or to its consequences. In the Greek Church the lowest views prevalent among Christians were adopted. The theologians of that church generally held that natural death, and a deterioration of our nature, and a change for the worse in the whole state of the world, were the only penal evils which the race of mankind suffer on account of Adam’s sin. In the Latin Church during the Middle Ages, as we have already seen, great diversity of opinion obtained as to the nature and extent of the evils brought upon the world by the apostasy of our first parent. The Council of Trent declared those evils to be death, the loss of original righteousness, and sin which is pronounced to be the death of the soul. The Lutherans and Reformed held the same doctrine with more consistency and earnestness. But in all this diversity it was universally admitted, first, that certain evils are inflicted upon all mankind on account of Adam’s sin; and, secondly, that those evils are penal. Men were universally, so far as the Church was concerned, held to bear in a greater or less degree the punishment of the sin of their first parent.
Objections to the Doctrine.
The great objection to this doctrine, that it is manifestly unjust that one man should be punished for the sin of another, has already been incidentally referred to. What is punishment? It is evil on suffering inflicted in support of law. Wherein is the injustice that one man should, on the ground of the union between them, be punished for the sin of another? If there be injustice in the case it must be in the infliction of suffering anterior to or irrespective of personal ill desert. It does not consist in the motive of the infliction. The infliction of suffering to gratify malice or revenge is of course a crime. To inflict it in mere caprice is no less obviously 205wrong. To inflict it for the attainment of some right and desirable end may be not only just but benevolent. Is not the support of the divine law such an end? The fact that all mankind do suffer on account of Adam’s sin no believer in the Bible can or does deny. It cannot be denied that these sufferings were designed. They arc included in the threatenings made in the beginning. They were expressly declared to be penal in the Bible. The sentence of condemnation is said to have passed on all men for the offence of one man. A part of the penalty threatened against sin in the great progenitor of the race was that his posterity should suffer the consequences of his transgression. They do thus suffer. It is vain, therefore, to deny the fact, and no relief is obtained by denying that those sufferings are inflicted in execution of the penalty of the law and for the infinitely important object of sustaining its authority.
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