THE CHRISTIAN'S RULE OF LIFE
A Farewell Sermon
PREACHED ON WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 1850,
BY THE REV. C. G. FINNEY
(OF THE OBERLIN COLLEGIATE INSTITUTION, AMERICA,)
AT THE TABERNACLE, MOORFIELDS.
"Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." --I Corinthians x.31.
In speaking from these words, I propose briefly to show:--
I. THAT THE CHARACTER OF GOD IS OF INFINITE VALUE
II. WHAT IT IS TO LIVE TO DO ALL FOR HIS GLORY
III. NOTICE SOME ILLUSTRATIONS OF THIS RULE
IV. EXAMINE SOME THINGS IN THE LIFE OF JESUS IN THE LIGHT OF THIS RULE
I. I have to show, in the first place, that the character of God is of infinite value.
God, as a moral agent, must have a conscience, and it is of infinite importance to him that he should meet the demands of his conscience--that his character and conduct should be in all respects what his conscience tells him it ought to be. Of course it is of infinite importance that He should meet the demands of his conscience, because his own happiness depends upon his approval of his own conduct and character. Just think. Suppose God did not wholly respect and approve of his own conduct and character! Suppose he should violate his own conscience--not that it ever will be so, but suppose that it were--of course the happiness of God would be destroyed, he would not glorify himself, nor honour himself in his own estimation: his character, therefore, is of infinite importance. Now, we all know the importance of self-respect. When we forfeit our own self-respect, we render ourselves wretched: when we have our own consciences against us we must of necessity become miserable. Persons are well aware that their own character is to themselves of very great importance in this respect. They find it impossible to be at peace when they sin; when they are living in such a manner as to be unable to approve themselves to their own consciences. Now, it is not too much to say, that for God to honour himself in his own estimation, to meet the demands of his judgment in respect to what is best and right, and to satisfy the demands of his own infinite reason and conscience, is a matter of infinite moment to himself. Then, again, it is of the utmost importance in relation to the government of the universe. Suppose God's character were to suffer in the estimation of the universe? The stability of his government depends upon the confidence of his subjects, as subjects of a moral government. The well-being and safety of the universe depend, I say, on the confidence reposed by the subjects of God in his sovereignty. Let their confidence in his character be forfeited, and what would be the result? Of course, it would unhinge his government, and ruin the universe. Indeed, confidence in God is the great hinge upon which all obedience turns. Destroy confidence in God, and you destroy the happiness of the entire universe. Confidence in God, therefore, is just as important as the happiness of the universe. But I will not enlarge on this.
II. I am to show, in the second place, what is intended by living to the glory of God.
The term "glory," as it is here used, means renown, reputation. To do everything to the glory of God, is to have this end in view in all that we do; whether we eat or drink or whatsoever we do, 'tis to be done for the glory of God: to secure the universal respect and confidence of his subjects; to do those things that shall set his character in the strongest and most attractive light, and that shall lead men thoroughly to understand and appreciate his character; and thus endeavour to win for God the confidence and the hearts of all of his subjects. It is the same thing as to win souls; to endeavour in all our ways to win souls to God, to win souls to Christ, by showing forth the character of Christ in our example, in our tempers, in our spirit, and in all that we do. It is to be our chief aim to set forth his will, his law, and his whole government as perfect, and to make it so lovely and desirable as to draw the hearts of men to himself, to confide in him, to love him, and to obey him. I repeat, that to do whatever we do to glorify God is to have this great end in view in all our ways, to make ourselves living mirrors reflecting the image of God. Suppose a man should come from America to England, and profess to be a devoted friend of the American Government, but should totally misrepresent it in all that he did. If instead of representing the true spirit of the government--the true Republican spirit,--he should himself be a despot in his spirit and character, and in every respect quite contrary to the real spirit of the American Government, and did not that, in any of his actions, which would truly represent it, what should we say of him? Now, suppose an individual should profess to be a disciple of Christ, should profess to love and obey his government, and to respect and revere his character, and yet he himself in all his ways misrepresented the character of God; that in his spirit and temper, and in his general deportment, he should hold forth a false light, and create a false impression of what the character and government of God really are, what should we say of such professors? Now, suppose a citizen of this country should go forth among the savage tribes of Africa, or any other part of the world, with the avowed object of recommending to them a species of government which in his estimation would secure their well-being, if adopted by them. Now, suppose he should profess great admiration of the British Government, but in all his ways and actions should misrepresent it: what would be the effect? would not the savages think that any governmental constitution was better than such a hideous monster? But, suppose this individual was really sincere and benevolent, suppose that he really felt and believed that the British Constitution would greatly conduce to their well-being, of course he would by all his conduct endeavour to recommend the government: he would seek to show in his own person what kind of a man such a government was calculated to make: his aim would be in all things that he did to recommend the government to the people; he would always have this in view in everything that he either did or said; in all his ways, and by all his actions, he would seek to recommend the government of his country so as to induce those among whom he sojourned to adopt it. Apply this to the government of God. Suppose that those who profess to be the subjects of God's government manifest anything else than the true spirit of that government? For example, suppose, that instead of showing that they are universally benevolent, and thus exhibit the law of God in its true spirit, they should manifest a selfish spirit,--who does not see that such persons would greatly and grievously misrepresent the true spirit and nature of the character of God's government? But suppose in all things an individual makes his whole life a mirror that shall reflect the pure character of God--the self-denial of Christ, the love of the Father, the purity and excellency of his law, and the perfection of his Government, and thus secure the glory of God, by living a life of universal peace and holiness. I pass now, in the next place, briefly to notice,--and as I am so exceedingly hoarse I must be very brief; perhaps I shall not make myself understood: I will try, and you may expect nothing more of me--
III. Some illustrations of this rule.
Observe, we have here a simple and plain rule of life, by which we are enabled to judge correctly of what is, and what is not our duty. The Bible always lays down great and broad principles. Instead of condescending to specify every form of duty, it lays down great principles to be followed out in practice. These principles are sometimes expressed in one form and sometimes in another; but they always amount to the same result in whatever way they are expressed. For example, the same principle is involved in the command, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength," that we have in the text, "Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." My object, beloved, is to set before those who profess to be converts, in as simple and as clear a manner as I can, a rule that they will do well always to remember, and by a reference to which they will, almost in all cases, be able to judge easily and correctly of all forms of duty, and whether any course of action is inconsistent, or not, with the Christian religion. If you are a Christian, you desire in all your ways to honour God. Of course you wish to awaken souls and bring them to him, to magnify his law, and to secure for him the universal confidence of all moral agents everywhere. Now, the life and conduct of Christ was a simple illustration of this rule; whatever he did he had this one great end in view: His aim, he said, was not to seek his own glory, but the honour and glory of God--that is, considered as the governor of the universe. The aim of Christ was to honour the Father considered in the relation of law-giver and governor; so to make men know him, as rightly to understand and appreciate his government--in all his ways he manifested a deep desire to show forth, in his spirit and temper, and in his whole life, the true character of God. I speak of Christ thus not only as a man, but a man endowed with a divine nature. Now, mark! his object was most thoroughly, and correctly, in all things to honour God, by making a fair, full, and thorough representation and reflection of God, in his own life and preaching; that he might show forth the character of God before the world, in order that he might prevail upon men to admire and imitate, and give themselves up to love and serve God. And let me say, the same was manifestly true of the Apostles. They caught the same spirit, and they laboured for the same great end. Their object everywhere was not to glorify themselves, but to honour God, to glorify him, and to publish abroad his glory and his praise, and get for him renown, and to obtain for him the confidence of all men.
But let me say again: The same rule we see shine most beautifully in the primitive saints and martyrs. And the same rule is applicable to all ministers, lay men and women, and every person in every rank of life now; the disposition of all Christian persons should be to commend God's government and character to the world--in all things to set forth the religion of Jesus Christ, the religion of the Bible, and so to exhibit it before the world, that men seeing their good works shall be constrained to glorify God. Christ has said, "Ye are the light of the world:" "Ye are the salt of the earth:" "So let your light shine before men that they seeing your good works shall glorify your Father which is in heaven." You profess to be the subjects of God's government, the disciples of Jesus; then in all your conduct manifest his spirit, let your light shine so as to cause God to be glorified; and do not misrepresent religion, do not falsify the character of God and the benevolence of his government. The apostle said, "For me to live is Christ." Do you live so as to be able to say this. Let your object be in living among men to seek to image forth Christ in all your conduct; to represent Christ among men as if there were a new edition of Jesus living in you: as if Christ was again appearing among men; showing himself through your temper, and spirit, and your whole life. But let me say again: Let it be understood, then, that this rule is one of universal application. It is binding on all Christian men in all places and at all times. You are to glorify God in the week as well as on the Sabbath; in your business as well as in your prayers. If you fail to glorify God in your business transactions, you will dishonour him in your prayers; if you appear at the communion-table, at the prayer-meeting, at the service of the sanctuary,--everything you do at any or all of these places is dishonourable to Christ, if in your daily life, in your dealings with worldly men you are doing nothing to honour Christ! I say that on all the days of the week as well as on the Sabbath you are to honour God--in your business as much as in your prayers: and in your ordinary meals, you ought as truly to honour God as at the Lord's table. To be sure the Lord's Supper is to commemorate the Lord's death, but whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, you are to do all to the glory of God. You are to show that you are not "a man given to appetite," in such sense that you live to eat instead of eat to live, in order that you may do the work of God. But I cannot enlarge upon this principle which you see so clearly brought out in the text. The meaning of all this is, that all our lives should be devotional, that we should ever, by our lives, and in all our ways, be devoted to God--everything that we do is to be service rendered to God. Now, suppose, that you are living by this rule, that you really intend to live to God, of course you will seek to glorify him in your eating and drinking, you will not eat food merely to gratify your own appetite, but that you may have strength to glorify God. Of course it will be so as to the things you eat, and the quantity you eat. Of course, you will not make "provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof;" but your appetite will be subservient to God--you will have his glory in view, and not merely your own personal gratification, in eating and drinking. So, in everything else, you will show to the world that you have a higher end in view than merely your own personal gratification, and that you are living to honour and glorify God.
IV. But I aim, fourthly, to examine some things in the life of Jesus in the light of this rule.
And, first, under this head, I would say, it is not enough that a thing may be done for the glory of God, but the question is, is it in fact done to glorify God? Now, you may do many things, beloved, that might very reasonably be done for the glory of God that are not. An illustration of this fact occurs to me at this moment. Several years since, I was labouring in one of the towns of America, during a revival of religion, where there lived a very singular woman, who contended that it was very proper for Christians to have balls, and to dance; and this position she defended most strongly. She adduced the fact of David's "dancing before the ark with all his might." Now, David did it as a religious service, and I asked her, "Do you actually perform dancing as a religious service? Do you do it to glorify God? Do you mean it as an act of worship? Do you mean it, as David meant it, to honour God and show his holy joy and holy zeal when the ark of God was coming into the city. Now, do you do it for that reason? Do you recommend it as a part of religious service? If you do, why then say so; but, if you don't mean to recommend it as a religious service, what do you mean by its being lawful?" Now, the fact is, things may be done to glorify God, that in fact are not done for that object. I can conceive of a man being so full of holy joy as to dance to glorify God, as David did; but, this would not prove that all dancing is performed for the same end, nor will it prove that dancing is right, except for this reason. I mention dancing rather than anything else, simply because the fact that I have just related occurred to me at the moment. It is not enough, I say again, that a thing may possibly be done to glorify God, but it really must be done for that reason. Men must glorify God in all that they do, or they do not obey him.
But, I remark, secondly, under this head: We cannot aim to glorify God by any means that are manifestly discreditable to God. For example, suppose a pirate ship should be fitted out for the avowed object of getting money for the Bible Society? Suppose this vessel went out into the open seas with the black flag and cross-bones, making war upon all the ships that passed where it was, destroying their crews and stealing their freights, and all this for the purpose of getting money for the Bible Society. Who does not see that this would shock the common-sense of mankind, who by a necessary law of their own natures would know that such a thing could not be done for the glory of God. Such a thing would be repugnant to the feelings and hearts of all men, and everybody would see that the very pretence was a gross absurdity. Suppose a slave ship should be fitted out to go down to the coast of Africa for slaves, that they might be taken to the West Indies or to the southern part of the United States, under the pretence of getting money for the Missionary Society. The convictions of all moral agents would be that this was sheer blasphemy! There are things, then, that cannot be done to glorify God--that the universal mind of all moral agents agree to declare cannot be done to glorify him. It is a remarkable fact that there are certain fundamental affirmations that belong to moral agents, as such, that they will agree in affirming to be true. I have just mentioned two,--the slave ship and the pirate ship, pretending to be engaged in religious pursuits. On such matters reason is out of place--it is a necessary conviction of the mind of men universally, that murder and robbery cannot be perpetrated to glorify God. There are a great many other things in the same category. Suppose, for example, that anything which is injurious to society should be got up, with a professedly religious purpose, that right on the face of it shows itself calculated to ruin the bodies and souls of men, but it is got up for the sake of doing good, and bringing glory to God. Now, who does not see that it is hypocrisy to pretend anything of this sort. Could any person bring himself to believe that he was glorifying God, for example, by engaging in any branch of business that is right in the face of society, calculated to injure both the bodies and souls of men? Suppose an individual should keep a house of ill-fame, under pretence that the avail was to be given to the Church! Who would not say that such a pretence was most blasphemous? But let me say, there are multitudes of things that on the very face of them misrepresent the benevolence of God, that are done on the pretence of honouring God! Now, this is a down-right shame! Now, let me ask, can anybody pretend to represent the benevolence of God by any of the things that I have named? No indeed! But again; take many of the ways of making money in the present day, by speculating, and by over-reaching. Money is made by this means, and sometimes under the pretence that part of it is to be given to the glory of God! Away with such money! Away with such pretensions! Who does not know that it is an abomination in the sight of God? Is it not revolting to every feeling of humanity to reflect that men should beat their slaves to make them earn that which they pretend they are about to devote to pious purposes; that that which is got by the sweat and blood of men is to be paid into the treasury of the Lord? Away with it, it is an abomination unto the Lord! But let me say again: you ought never to do anything that Christ plainly would not have done. Now, there are certain things, for example, that by a law of our own being we affirm Christ would not do. There is a sure guiding principle that lies deep in the mind of man, that affirms things in which men will agree. For instance, every moral agent will affirm that Christ would not give himself up to be a pirate. Who believes that he would? He would not give himself up to pursue any kind of business that would ruin the bodies or souls of men! Who believes that he would? Do you suppose that for the sake of getting money to spread the gospel he would resort to some of the means that are resorted to in these days? Now, let me say--the Lord does not want people to get money for him by grinding the faces of the poor. That a man for the sake of selling his goods cheap, and to get money for the cause of God, should screw down the people in his employ, and give them such a pittance as will hardly keep body and soul together! Do you think Christ would do that? Would he shave and cut down the honest earnings of a poor woman for the sake of getting money to diffuse the gospel? No, indeed! God is not so poor that he cannot get money without your serving the devil in that way!
I am so very hoarse to-night, [f]or I intended to take up this question of trade fully, and put the knife of truth into it, but I must forbear. But let me say again: Very often persons get up fairs, or parties, and even balls, for the sake of getting money for God, as they say. Some years ago, while labouring in a certain place in America, the Unitarians got up a ball of this kind, that was to last for two days. Each gentleman paid two pounds for attending the ball, the proceeds of which were to be given to the poor--in fact, to supply them with fuel, for it was very cold weather. Now, many people who professed to dislike such things in a general way, went to this ball, because it was "a charity ball!" Now, why, if they were benevolent, could they not at once give the two pounds to the poor? Why go to feast and ball, serving the devil for two days, and then give only the residue to the poor? Was not this merely an apology for charity? Yes, and nothing else! Some of the Orthodox people, who did not like balls, and would not go so far as that, got up some parties--"charity parties" as they called them,--and there they got together and had a fine time of it--had everything that was rich and nice--and concluded with prayer! Why conclude with prayers? Because they got the ministers in to sanction and share in their proceedings. And, then, the residue of the proceeds of these parties was given to the poor! Do you think Christ would have acted thus? Young convert, how does it strike you? Was that benevolence? What think you of having a night of merriment, and calling it "a charity party," laughing and talking and going on, and then sanctifying the whole with prayer? Well, now, I might mention a great multitude of things that are done under the pretence of benevolence. Some of you, perhaps, may have been drawn into some of these things. I have known theatres to give "benefits" for the poor, and have thus drawn in professors of religion who did not object to go because it was "a benefit for the poor." Why not give your money at once? Why run to the theatre? Oh, what a miserable subterfuge is all this! I trust you will in future have your eyes open. Ask yourselves, when you are requested, or tempted, to do anything--would Jesus Christ do that?
But again: Speculation cannot be engaged in for the glory of God. By speculation, I mean this--there are multitudes of individuals who will give themselves to get money by making great bargains out of their fellow-men, under the pretence that they are going to get rich in order that they may give money to the cause of God. Now, it is manifestly wrong for a man thus to overreach his fellow-men, that he may make a great bargain, and thus be able to give something to God. Such a man says to God, "O God I have made this speculation out of that man, and now I will give part of it to thee." Now, is this one of the ways in which a man can honestly attempt to glorify God? No, indeed! God does not require that a man should be unjust to his fellow-men, in order to give money for the advancement of his cause on the earth. I am not speaking of those persons who are engaged in what may be termed lawful speculations; but of those who drive hard bargains, professedly for the glory of God. Now, there is altogether a mistake in this; they don't do it, for this reason. The very nature of man cannot assent to this. To wrong a neighbour to give to God cannot possibly please God. God loves all men; there is an important sense in which all men are his children, and God will not see injustice done even to the wickedest of men. You have no right to act unjustly to a wicked man. No, indeed! God will not consent to it. But, again: let me relate a fact--I believe I mentioned it in this place once before, it may be well to mention it again, however, as it will illustrate what I mean. About the year 1831, an individual possessing large property professed to be converted; and he said that he had resolved to give up all his property to God, for his glory and the advancement of his religion: he had no family, and therefore did not want it. He spent several years in looking about him to see what object he should give it to, but he could see no object worthy of it--he always saw something in every society which, he said, conscientiously prevented his parting with his money to it. His property in the meantime went on accumulating. By and by he began to speculate in provisions, and he went through to the great thoroughfare of the West and bought up everything that he could in the shape of provisions in order that he might sell them out again at an extravagant price. But it so happened that he did not get hold of enough to carry his speculation: he did not become possessed of sufficient to control the market, and therefore lost all he had. He came to my house soon after, and seeing he looked very sad I asked the cause. "Why," said he, "all my store is gone." "I am glad of it," said I, "for you never intended to give it to God." I felt sure of this, although he had told me what he intended to do with the money if the speculation succeeded. "You wanted," said I, "to make the poor man sweat and toil to pay an extravagant price for his food, and you tell me that the object you had in doing this was, that you might serve God with the money! You gave yourself to speculate for God, did you? I don't believe you thought so. You were selfish in it." You may judge how the conversation affected him. "Now," said I to him, "I can't believe this; it is not in human nature to believe it, it is contrary to the laws of moral agents. Neither will God have money so gotten."
Let this illustrate what I mean, beloved; never think, then, that you can glorify God in engaging in anything that Christ would not have engaged in. Ask yourselves, would Christ do that? Should I be shocked to see him do it? If you would be shocked to see him do it; if you would be stunned and confounded to see him do it, then don't do it yourselves. But, let me say, once more, I might advert here, if I had time and strength, to a great many things which pass currently among men, which they profess to be doing religiously, but which cannot be done religiously; but I cannot now enlarge upon them.
I must now conclude with a few remarks. First, nothing short of living in conformity with this rule is true religion. That is, when you do not live with this in your view, you have not a single eye: even if you have been converted, you are not now a child of God unless you are living according to this rule. If you do not glorify God in everything, you are fallen into sin.
Again: This is always a good rule for young converts especially, when any question comes before the mind, and you are unable to decide what you ought to do, just ask yourself this question; Would Christ do this? Might I expect to find Christ at that party? Would an apostle suffer himself to be there? Can I do anything for Christ there? Can I speak a word for Christ, or will it be considered entirely out of place to talk about religion; or if I should manifest a Christian spirit there, would it not be considered out of place? Would it shock the company that I should pretend to have any religion? If so, it is manifestly not the place for religious people--a place where Christ is not, and religion is an intrusion.
But again: Many persons will sometimes go to such places, but to save their characters they will introduce religion in some way or other, perhaps to give offense; just to save their characters they will introduce Christ, but only to be rejected and despised.
Again: Never go into any company without seeking to glorify Christ, and where you do not go for that object. Jesus, you know, went to dine with the Pharisees, but it was with a view to rebuke, and instruct, or to correct their religious errors. Again: Do not fall into this mistake,--do not go for some other reason, and finally cover your retreat by sanctifying it with prayer and the reading of the Scriptures. Now, persons will sometimes go to places where they don't expect to do any good, they don't go for that object, but after they have had their pleasures and feastings they will cover their retreat by prayer. Now, beloved, always remember to do whatever you do to honour God.
But let me say again: This is one of the most simple and natural rules of life for men whose hearts are right with God. When the heart is in a right state, it is as natural as to breathe, to have reference to Christ in everything that you do. Again: If men would regard this rule, their business transactions would not be a snare to them. Business was not designed to be a snare to any man; and if men will but transact business for God, they will be as religious in their business as they are on the Sabbath. Observe, you may be as truly spiritual-minded behind your counters as in your closets. Spiritual-mindedness is devoting everything to God, making everything over to him, and living for his honour and glory. Now men ought to be just as spiritual-minded in their business as in their prayers; and if they are not in their business, they are not in their prayers. Mind that! If you are not devoted to God during the week, you are not on the Sabbath, and you deceive yourself if you think you are. You cannot serve yourself in the week and God on the Sabbath. Not you! The fact is, you will have the same end in view on the Sabbath as in the week. If you are selfish in the week, you will be selfish on the Sabbath. If you are not religious in your business, you will not be religious in anything. This is the fact. For what end are you doing business? What object have you in view? What do you live for? This is the great question. It should always be understood, then, that men are in reality no more religious on the Sabbath than they are in the week. They are no more truly religious, in their prayers than they are in their workshops. If they are religious in the one, they are in the other. Let no man think that he honours God on the Sabbath if he does not serve God on the other days of the week. It is well to be in the sanctuary on the Sabbath, and on all proper occasions; this duty should not be left undone, and let your devotion to God's house be seen and acknowledged: but be sure to let the world see in your business that you are a servant of God; let this be known in all your ways, in all your expenditure, in all your dress, in all your equipage: you must be the servant of God in every little thing, or be the servant of God in nothing.
Now, let me say, it will not be considered extravagant if I state that there is a very great mistake among the mass of professors of religion in this particular. There is a great affection of sanctity on the Sabbath, with many who have no piety at home, and in their business transactions. See a man in the house of God on the Sabbath who appears very devout, and you wish to know whether he is really so, go and do business with him on the Monday, and you will soon find out what he really is. Ah, you can say I have done business with that man; I could not tell what he was when he was in the chapel, but I have seen him in his own house, in his shop, and I see that he is a man of God there: I saw him dealing with the hired men and women in his employ, and I have learned it all. Now mark, he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. That is the Bible doctrine. He that would cheat you of a penny would cheat you of a thousand pounds, if he could do it without injury to his business character. A man that does not regard God's glory in everything does not regard it in anything! But I must not continue this strain of remark. Beloved, I designed simply in my remarks to-night to lay down a great principle of religion, the great rule of life. I have done so. Now, let me ask, will you consent to live by this rule? Young convert, do you now see how you can honour or dishonour religion? Do you see how much good or how much evil you can do? Do you know how much the character of revivals of religion depends upon your living in everything to glorify God! Live therefore close to God; "whatsoever ye do, whether ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God." Whatever you think will really honour God, that do. Whatever, in your solemn judgment and by the light of the Scriptures and the example of Jesus Christ, you think will be honourable to God, that do; do it for that reason, and the blessing and peace of God shall be with you.
I am not now preaching on the Atonement--my text did not lead me. I am not now preaching on Baptism--my text did not lead me. I am not now preaching about Election--my text did not lead me. I have been preaching about living to the glory of God! And have been urging you, beloved, to live to the glory of God. Will you do it? Perhaps I ought to say I shall, in all probability, see the faces of many of you no more until we meet in judgment. I shall make no appeal to your feelings in respect of meeting me there; but I would remind you that both you and I will soon have to meet God! Let us study to approve ourselves to him, let men say what they will. Amen.
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