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Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power.—2 Thes. i. 11.
THE apostle had given thanks for them, ver. 3; now he prayeth for them. He gave thanks for the work begun and carried on hitherto; he prayeth now that God would perfect the work of salvation begun in them of his mere mercy. Love and power began this work, and love and power still carry it on. In his thanksgiving he saith, ‘We thank God always for you, brethren;’ and in his prayer, ‘We pray always for you.’ That is said to be done always which is often done, upon all meet occasions. If you have any success, we always give thanks for you; if any fear or danger of receding from the faith, we always pray for you. The apostle durst not trust the event or force of his own ministry, nor the experiment of their sincerity, but ascribeth all to God, commendeth all to God; the beginning, progress, and end of our salvation cometh from him alone. They had begun well, therefore he blesseth God; that they might end well, he prayeth to God, ‘Wherefore also we pray always for you,’ fec.
The matter of his prayer is delivered in three expressions, ‘That our God,’ &c. All which intimate—(1.) A double cause; (2.) A double effect.
1. The double cause—(1.) God’s free goodness; (2.) Infinite power. God’s goodness appointed this happiness for us; his power bringeth us to the enjoyment of it.
2. The double effect—(1.) Perseverance in their duty; (2.) Attainment of everlasting happiness. All the expressions concern both end and means.
Now, that I may give you the full meaning of the text, I shall first lay down a general observation; secondly, open the three expressions, which contain the matter of the apostle’s prayer.
For the general observation, take it thus—
Doct. That the whole business of our salvation floweth from the plea sure of God’s goodness, and is effectually accomplished by his divine power.
First, I must prove to you that it floweth from the pleasure of his goodness. The apostle’s word in the text is ἐυδοκία ἀγαθωσύνης. 285Ἐυδοκία signifieth his most free will; ἀγαθωσύνη, his benignity. In the whole course of our salvation, the pleasure of his goodness is to be observed. The coming of Christ: Luke ii. 14, ‘Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will towards men.’ The covenant of grace: Col. i. 19, 20, ‘It pleased the Father that in him all fulness should dwell: and (having made peace through the blood of his cross) by him to reconcile all things to himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven.’ The ministry: 1 Cor. i. 21, ‘It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.’ The grace to embrace the covenant offered: Mat. xi. 26, ‘Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.’ It is God’s good pleasure to reveal it to some and not to others. The grace to keep the covenant; so in the text, and Phil. ii. 13, ‘He worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.’ So that God’s will is the rise and root of all. So for the blessings of the covenant, they all come from his good pleasure. The blessing by the way: Deut. xxxiii. 16, ‘For the good will of him that dwelt in the bush, let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, because of his gracious favour.’ So for the blessing of the end of the journey, for eternal life: Luke xii. 32, ‘Fear not, little flock; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom;’ ἐυδόκησε, out of his own accord, and the inclinations of his singular mercy. Our Father’s pleasure doth not only concern our final happiness, but all the ways and means which conduce thereunto, to give it in such a way as best pleaseth him.
To make this more evident to you, take these considerations—
1. That God hath absolute power and sovereign right to dispose as he will of all his creatures, not only as to their temporal but eternal concernments: Mat. xx. 15, ‘I may do with mine own as it pleaseth me.’ As the master over his goods, as the potter over his clay. Nothing before it had a being had a right to dispose of itself; neither did God make it what it was by necessity of nature, nor by the command, counsel, or will of any superior, nor the direction of any coadjutor; neither is there any to whom he should render any account of his work; but merely produced all things by the act of his own will, as an absolute agent and sovereign lord of all his actions: Rev. iv. 11, ‘Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’ None can call him to an account, and say, ‘What makest thou?’ and why doest thou thus? Isa. xlv. 9. Why dost thou dispose of me in this or that manner? If the question be, Why God made me a man, and not a beast, not a plant, &c.?
2. The sovereign will is the supreme cause why he did pass by some and elect others: Rom. ix. 18, ‘Therefore he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy.’ God is not bound to render any reason beyond his bare will: ‘It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy,’ ver. 16. God is to be considered as the governor of the world, or as a free lord. God will not show mercy so as to cross his government, nor so bind himself to his government as shall cross his liberty as an absolute lord and free agent. Compare 1 Cor. ix. 24, ‘So run that ye may obtain.’ It is not in him that runneth, yet, ‘So run.’ The first place belongeth to God’s dispensation of grace as a free lord, the second as a righteous governor. God is 286arbitrary in his gifts, but not in his judgments; his judgments are dispensed according to law and rule, but his gifts of grace according to his own pleasure. So God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy; it is his prerogative to convert whom he will; that is not an act of right and wrong, but of favour and grace; therefore the cause that moved God to elect any, or one more than another, is his absolute sovereign pleasure, or favour and good-will towards those whom he did elect.
3. This absolute dominion and sovereign will is sweetly tempered with his goodness, or rich favour and gracious condescension toward his elect ones. His will to them was good pleasure, or the pleasure of his goodness. God hath a gracious good-will towards his people. The propension or self-inclination that is in God to do good to his people is called his benignity or goodness; but as it is free, it is called the pleasure of his goodness; as it is to persons in misery, it is called his pity and mercy. We are to consider it here as free and independent in regard of the creature. What could he foresee in us to move and incline him but what was the fruit of his own grace? The first grace is the mere fruit of his mercy and pity to us, giving us a new heart, whereby we repent and turn to him. More expressly to the case is James i. 18, ‘Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures;’ Ezek. xxxvi. 26, ‘A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.’ In all the subsequent grace, though we are qualified according to the rules of his government, yet we merit nothing there; the continuance of what is received is a part of the pleasure of his goodness; for as he begat us of his own good-will, so by the same good-will he continueth us in the state of grace to which he hath called us: Gal. vi. 16, ‘As many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them and mercy;’ Phil. i. 6, ‘He that hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.’ They that walk most accurately stand in need of mercy; all our comforts and supplies are the fruit of undeserved grace. For our final consummation, the same pleasure of his goodness which laid the first stone in the building doth also finish the work: Jude 21, ‘Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.’ We take glory out of the hands of mercy, and it is mercy that puts the crown upon our heads. It is mercy that pardoneth our failings, accepteth our persons, rewardeth our faithfulness, pitieth our miseries, relieveth our wants; it is mercy that maketh us worthy of the glory of the blessed. In short, it is mercy doth all for us. The whole progress of this work from first to last is all from God; not from any worth of ours, nor by any power of ours, but merely from the pleasure of his goodness.
Secondly, As it is from the pleasure of his goodness, so it is accomplished by his almighty power. The scriptures speak of the power of God, which is necessary—(1.) To bring us into a state of grace; (2.) To settle and maintain us in a state of grace.
1. To bring us into a state of grace. Nothing but the almighty power of God can overcome man’s obstinacy, and change our hearts, and subdue us to God. Man is so corrupt that he cannot change himself, for there is no sound part left in us to mend the rest: Job xiv. 4, ‘Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?’ Therefore Christ 287died to purchase the Spirit, to renew and sanctify us; and his work must not be lessened and disparaged as if it were needless, or not so great as some would have it to be. The scripture always heighteneth it, and we must not lessen it. It is called a new creation: 2 Cor. v. 17, ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature;’ Eph. ii. 10, ‘We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works.’ So Eph. iv. 24, ‘That ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.’ Now creation is a work of omnipotency, and proper to God. There is a twofold creation which we read of: in the beginning God made something out of nothing, and some things ex inhabili materia, out of foregoing matter, but such as was wholly unfit and indisposed for those things which were made of it; as when God made Adam out of the dust of the ground, and Eve out of the rib of man. Now take the notion either in the former or in the latter sense, and you will see that God only can create. If in the former sense, something and nothing have an infinite distance between them; and he only that calleth things that are not as though they were can raise the one out of the other. To this sanctification is compared: 2 Cor. iv. 6, ‘For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts,’ &c. ὀ εἴπων. It alludeth to that, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’ Or if you will take the latter notion, creation out of unfit matter, he maketh those that are wholly indisposed to good, averse from it, perverse resisters of what would bring them to it, to be lovers and followers of holiness and godliness: 2 Peter i. 3, ‘By the divine power all things are given us which are necessary to life and godliness.’ God challengeth this work as his own, as belonging to his infinite power. By life is meant not life natural, nor life eternal, but life spiritual; and by holiness, the fruits of it, or holy conversation. All is accomplished by the exercise of his controlling omnipotent power; so that this work must not be looked upon as a low, natural, and common thing, nor the benefit of the new creation be lessened and disparaged, lest we lessen our obligation to God.
2. To keep us and maintain us in a state of grace. Here consider—(1.) The necessity of the power of God; (2.) The sufficiency of it to keep us.
[1.] The necessity of God’s power: 1 Peter i. 5, ‘Ye are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation.’ None but this almighty guardian can keep us and preserve us by the way, that we may come safe to our journey’s end. This will appear to you—
(1.) Partly because habitual grace, which we have received, is a creature, and therefore in itself mutable; for all creatures depend in being and working on him that made them: Acts xvii. 28, ‘For in him we live, and move, and have our being.’ Now as God assisteth all creatures in their operations, so doth he also the new creature: Heb. xiii. 21, ‘The Lord make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight.’ Not only is conversion wrought in us by God, but when we are converted, grace is no less necessary to finish than to begin. Our new estate dependeth absolutely upon his influence from first to last; he worketh all our works for us and in us, not only giveth us habitual grace, which constituteth our spiritual being, but actual grace, which quickeneth us in 288our operations. By this dependence on him God doth engage us to a constant communion with him. If we did keep the stock ourselves, God and we would soon grow strange; as the prodigal, when he had his portion in his own hands, goeth away from his father. The throne of grace would lie neglected and unfrequented, and God would seldom hear from us; therefore doth he keep grace in his own hands, to oblige us to a continual intercourse with him.
(2.) Because it is much opposed by the devil, the world, and the flesh. Within there is corruption, and without there are temptations; within there is the flesh always warring against the better part; our cure is not fully wrought: Gal. v. 17, ‘The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.’ The flesh is importunate to be pleased, and it will urge us to retrench and cut off a great part of that necessary duty which belongeth to our heavenly calling; yea, if we hearken to it, it will crave very unlawful and unreasonable things at our hands. And as there is opposition within, so it is exposed to temptations from without; from Satan, who watcheth all advantages against us: 1 Peter v. 8, ‘Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about seeking whom he may devour.’ Now when his temptations assault us with considerable strength, without seasonable relief or grace to help in time of need, how shall we be able to stand? Adam had habitual grace, but he gave out at the first assault. So for the world, either its terrors or its delights will shake and weaken our resolutions for God and heaven. Its terrors, which was the case in the text, and the power of God can only relieve us against them: 2 Tim. i. 8, ‘Be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel, according to the power of God.’ So delights corrupt us while the soul dwelleth in flesh, looketh out by the senses; these things are grateful to us, to wean our hearts from them, and that we do escape the corruption that is in the world through lust, is the fruit of God’s grace: Mat. xix. 26, ‘With God all things are possible.’ That our affection to riches, and the pleasures and honours of this life, may not corrupt us, and hinder us in our duty to God, and pursuit after the happiness of the world to come.
[2.] The sufficiency of this power. It is the power of God, and surely that is sufficient for all things: ver. 24, ‘To him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory.’ God is able and ready to help the diligent and waiting Boul.
(1.) His power is enough to enable for all our duties: Phil. iv. 13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me;’ Eph. iii. 16, ‘That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.’
(2.) To support us under all our trials: Deut. xxxiii. 22, ‘The eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are his everlasting arms.’ God telleth Paul, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ It was Austin’s observation, Job in stercore, Job is more happy in his misery than Adam in innocency; he was victorious on the dunghill when the other was defeated on the throne; he gave no ear to the evil counsel of his wife, when the woman seduced Adam; he despised the assaults of Satan, when the other suffered himself to be worsted at the first temptation; he preserved his 289righteousness in the midst of his sorrows, when the other lost his innocency in the midst of the delights of paradise.
(3.) To resist temptations. The devil hath great strength, but the Spirit of God hath greater: 1 John iv. 4, ‘Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.’ Satan is in the bait, but God supporteth: Eph. vi. 10, ‘Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.’ When the spiritual armour is spoken of, we have the all-sufficient and omnipotent power of God engaged for us; and therefore he is able to sustain us against the opposition of men or devils. It is a lamentable thing to see what a poor spirit is in most christians, how soon they are captivated or discouraged with every slender assault or petty temptation, and their resolutions are shaken with the appearance of every difficulty they meet with in the heavenly life. This is affected weakness, not so much want of strength as sluggishness and cowardice, or want of care. Men will not set about their duty, then cry out they are impotent; like lazy beggars, that personate and act diseases because they would not work. They are not able to stand up before the slightest motions of sin, because they do not improve the strength God vouchsafeth to them by his Holy Spirit. There are two extremes pride and sloth. Pride and self-confidence is when we think we do not need God’s power; sloth, when we do not improve it, neglect what is given, and complain rather than encourage ourselves to make use of his grace.
Use 1. If the whole business of our salvation floweth from the pleasure of God’s goodness, and is accomplished by his divine power, then God must have all the praise; for no consequence can be so naturally deduced as that which the apostle inferreth from this principle: Rom. xi. 36, ‘Of him, and through him, and to him are all things, to whom be glory for ever and ever, amen.’ Under the law the first-fruits and the tenths were the Lord’s portion; the first, which is the beginning, and the tenth, which is the perfection of numbers. All things are upheld by him as their continual preserver, therefore all things must tend to him as the ultimate end; especially the whole dispensation of grace in the calling and converting of sinners is to be imputed to the pleasure of his goodness and almighty power. God is not to be robbed, neither in whole nor in part, of this glory.
1. If you consider the pleasure of his goodness, you will see abundant cause to praise God. First let us state the difference between man and man, which can come from God only. That there is a heaven and a hell is not only evident by the light of scripture, but in a great measure by the light of nature. That heaven is for the good and just, and hell for the naught and wicked, is as evident as the former; for men’s different course of life causeth the apprehension of these different recompenses. It cannot easily go down with any man, that hath but a spark of reason and conscience left, that good and bad should fare alike. Well, but now let us inquire into the causes of this difference, why some are good, others bad. Nothing can be assigned but their different choice; some choose the better part, others abandon themselves to their lusts and brutish satisfactions; for this is indeed the next cause, their own choice and inclination. But we will carry the 290inquiry higher. Whence cometh this different choice and inclination? And there is reason for this question, for both scripture and experience will tell us that man from his infancy and childhood is very corrupt, and more inclinable to evil than to good: and you may as well expect to gather grapes from thorns, and figs from thistles, as that man of his own accord should be good and holy. Whence is it? Either it is from temper and education, or, which is akin to it, the advantages of means and outward instruction that some have above others. Is it from temper and constitution of body? The truth is, this is a benefit and a gift of God to have a good temper and constitution, the dispositions of the mind following very much the temperament of the body. But this cannot be all; if it be any cause, it is but a partial cause; it cannot be the whole, for then the blemish of a man’s actions would light upon the Creator who formed him in the womb with a diseased temper; and when the foolishness of his heart perverteth his way, he would be in a great measure justified in his fretting against the Lord, who gave him no better temper of body. Besides, experience contradicteth it; how many are there who be of brave wits, and spoil an excellent constitution of body by their intemperance and incontinency, and so do not make this good choice by which they might be everlastingly happy? And on the other side, we see many of crabbed and depraved tempers, that master their ill dispositions by grace; and God doth often choose beams and rafters for the sanctuary of the most crooked timber, and doth wonderfully change them by his grace, and of a sour and rugged temper maketh them to become meek and holy. Surely temper is not all, the wise men among the heathen themselves being judges.
Come we then to the next cause, good education, and setting their inclinations right from their infancy. I cannot wholly reject this; it is an advantage, and parents are justly culpable before God for not bringing up their children in the nurture and information of the Lord, and setting them straight betimes in a course of virtue and religion. Hearken to Solomon: Prov. xxii. 6, ‘Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.’ There is very much in the education of children; the first infusions in our instruction stick by us, and conduce much, if not to conversion, yet at least to conviction, and reproach men all their days for warping from that good way wherein they are educated. But allowing this a means, it doth not exclude the first cause and author of grace; and besides, we see many not only quench brave wits and spirits in filthy excess, but also wrest themselves out of the arms of the best education; and though they have been brought up in the most religious families, where they are little acquainted with vice and sin, and have been choicely educated in the grounds and principles of christian religion, yet have spit in the face of their education, and turned the back upon those holy instructions and counsels that have been instilled into them.
Well, then, let us go to the third cause, since education, though it does much to fashion men, yet it cannot change their hearts. The third is the means of grace, or the institutions of Christ, which certainly in a way of means have great authority and power; for Christ is so good and wise, that he would never set us about fruitless labours; he 291knoweth what keys will fit the wards of the lock, and what is most likely to do the deed, and prevail upon the heart of man: Ps. cxix. 9, ‘Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word;’ Acts xv. 9, ‘Purifying their hearts by faith.’ The doctrine of the gospel well understood and applied will do it, or nothing will do it; but many hear the gospel who are not one jot the better: Rom. x. 16, ‘They have not all believed the gospel; for Isaiah saith, Who hath believed our report?’ We see the same sun that softeneth wax hardeneth clay; the same seed that thriveth in the good and honest heart is lost on the highway, the stony, thorny ground; the difference is not in the seed but in the soil; therefore whatever helps or means you can imagine, good temper, good education, powerful ministry, all will do nothing, till God puts a new heart and life into us, to incline us to seek after him, and other things as they lie in subordination to him.
Let us gather up this discourse now. Surely man doth not determine himself to good, is not the supreme cause and author of his own happiness. Man is evilly inclined, and no culture, no education, no institution, can subdue and alter it: Job xiv. 4, ‘Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?’ Man’s heart will not be changed, and so no foundation laid for a different course. Suppose, for disputation’s sake, the means could do it without God, yet the question returneth, how is it that some have better tempers, better education, better institution than others? There is a kind of election and reprobation within the sphere of nature: Ps. cxlvii. 20, ‘He hath not dealt so with every nation.’ Some have fairer advantages, and more favour in the use of outward means; that is only to be ascribed to God’s providence: but besides external providence, the scriptures teach us there is a necessity of internal grace, that all saving faith is the gift of God, Eph. ii. 8; it must come from him.
Why doth God work faith in some, not in others? Inquire as long as you will, you must come to this at last: ‘Even so, Father, because it pleased thee,’ or, as it is in the text, it is merely the pleasure of his goodness. God acts freely, and giveth grace when and to whom he pleaseth. The free gift of God dependeth on some eternal decree and purpose; for God doth nothing rashly and by chance, but all by counsel and predestination. There was some eternal choice and distinction made between man and man. Why we, not others? It was merely the good will of God and his free choice that made the difference. Election implieth a choice; for where all are taken, there is no choice: ‘One of a city, and two of a tribe,’ Jer. iii. 14; or, as it is, Mat. xxiv. 41, ‘One taken, and the other left.’ Jacob, not Esau; Abel, not Cain. Why will he reveal himself to us, and not to the world? Others were as eligible as we, our merits no more than theirs, we were as bad as they. All souls are God’s, Ezek. xviii. 4. He created them as well as you, saw as much original sin in you as them. ‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ Mal. i. 2. They had as much means as you, your prejudices and obstinacy as strong as theirs, as blind in mind, as perverse in heart: ‘Who made you differ?’ 1 Cor. iv. 7. Why you, not they? You were as ignorant of God, as averse from him, as corrupt in manners; so that when God had all 292Adam’s posterity in his prospect and view, it was mere grace distinguished you.
2. His almighty power. It is very great sacrilege to rob God of his glory. Surely every thankful christian should say, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’ It is by his all-conquering Spirit that any are brought in to him: Acts xi. 21, ‘The hand of the Lord was with him, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.’ So Isa. liii. 1, ‘Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?’ How diversely are people affected with the same things? One is convinced of his misery, the other not at all moved; one is drawn to Christ, the other goeth away dead and still averse to him. Some are pricked at heart, Acts ii. 37, others cut at heart, and gnash with their teeth at the delivery of the same doctrine, Acts vii. 50. Consider—
[1.] God doth not only invite and solicit us to good, but doth incline and dispose the heart to it. They are taught of God, and drawn of God: John vi. 44, 45, ‘No man can come to me, except the Father who hath sent me draw him. Every man therefore that hath heard, and learned of the Father, cometh unto me.’
[2.] God doth not only help the will, but give the will itself; not by curing the weakness, but by sanctifying it, and taking away the sin fulness of it. If the will were only in a swoon and languishment, a little excitation would serve the turn; it is not dead, but sleepeth; but it is stark dead to spiritual things. And God’s grace is not only necessary for facilitation, as a horse for a journey, that a man might not go on foot, but absolutely necessary. God giveth us not only a power to will if we please, or a power to do if we please, but the will itself: Jer. xxiv. 7, ‘I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord;’ Ezek. xxxvi. 27, ‘I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes.’
[3.] Not only at first, but still all our work is done by his power. As he giveth us the habits which constitute the new creature, so he furnisheth us with those daily supplies by which the spiritual life is maintained in us; therefore we must still put the crown on grace’s head, in whatever we have done and suffered for him: Luke x. 16, ‘Thy pound hath gained,’ &c.; Gal. ii. 20, ‘I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God;’ 1 Cor. xv. 10, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’ Of his own we still give him, therefore let us ascribe all to him.
Use 2. To encourage prayer for grace; God is able and willing.
1. For his willingness, here is the pleasure of his goodness. We are conscious to ourselves of undeservings and ill-deservings; but when we can see no reason for his showing mercy to us, his goodness should keep up our addresses to him. We are unworthy, but these blessings come not from our deserts, but the pleasure of his goodness; he is not moved by any foreseen worthiness in us. You will say, His goodness I could depend upon, but I doubt of his pleasure, whether to me. I answer—We must not dispute away the help offered to us. A man in danger of drowning with others will catch at the rope that is cast forth to him, not dispute what is the mind of him who casts out the cords and 293lines by which he is brought to shore. If a rich man cast money among the poor, would they stand scrupling whether the giver intendeth it to them? No; every one would take his share. These scruples are affected, and must be chidden, not cherished.
2. For his power. He that can turn water into wine can change the heart of a graceless sinner, and make it gracious, a bad man to become good. Wait for this power in the use of means: Jer. xvii. 14, ‘Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved;’ Jer. xxxi. 18, ‘Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God.’ No creature can be too hard for him; God can find a passage into the most obstinate heart.
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