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15998The Word of Christ

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  • Simon Padbury
    Aug 2 6:38 AM

      Dear all,


      I was sorting out some old stuff earlier, and I found this article I wrote for a magazine a few years ago, and as I thought some folk here may appreciate it. It got published, but as I look back at it now I notice that it needs some rebuilding in some places, and making less wordy, and cutting out some Scripture references.


      Please don't take this as me promoting myself. My aim here is, firstly, to promote the exclusive use of the Book of Psalms in Christian worship. Secondly, as things seem to have gotten very quiet round here, and as Jerry's attempt at cheering us all up and moving us toward some friendly conversation ("So, what good books are everyone reading...?") hasn't got many people going, I thought, "It's a shame to see this old essay 'sitting on the shelf', doing nothing."


      Kind regards,



      Psalm 119:132.


      The Word of Christ

      By Simon Padbury

      “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:18, 19).

      “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).

      The “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” of which the apostle speaks are all the “word of Christ,” and the singing of them is a means whereby we are to be “filled with the Spirit.” What the Holy Spirit is telling us here is that they are Christ’s own composition, delivered through the Spirit of prophecy. Surely our studying and singing and “teaching and admonishing [of] one another” using the compositions of Christ himself is doubtless a more direct and a far better means of being “filled with the Spirit” than using songs or hymns of anyone not so inspired. And then there is the consideration of the regulative principle of worship: we must worship God in the manner prescribed by him, and with the material prescribed by him — or it is not the worship of God at all. If we do anything other than that which he has commanded to be done in worship of him, and if there has been no license given for it, then while being thus occupied we are inexcusably not doing that which he has commanded us to do.


      The context of verse 19 in Ephesians 5 is one of instruction in orderly behaviour and sanctified living. Paul commands the church at Ephesus, and all others who consider themselves to be Christians, to “Be ye … followers of God” (v. 1) by “walking in love” together (v. 2), which requires conduct “as becometh saints” (v. 3), and not being deceived into partaking of the immoral, God-dishonouring lifestyle of the “children of disobedience” (vv. 6, 7). As “children of light” (v. 8), Christians are to “reprove” the sinful and “unfruitful works of darkness” (v. 11) and instead to bear the Spirit-wrought fruit of “all goodness and righteousness and truth” (v. 9), being “wise” in their life-walk (vv. 15, 17). And this wise, truth-filled, righteousness-filled, goodness-filled Christian life is not achieved by being “drunk with wine” but by being “filled with the Spirit” (v. 18) — which in-filling involves “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (v. 19). From this private meditation and singing is to come the fruit of humble and holy living before our Christian brothers and sisters (vv. 20, 21).


      The context of verse 16 in Colossians 3 is also one of instruction in orderly behaviour and sanctified living. Christians are exhorted to have their minds focussed on God and to be sanctified (vv. 1, 2, 10-25) and to mortify (“put off”) their fallen earthly natures (v. 5-9). As an active part of this sanctification we are exhorted to “Let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly in all wisdom” through the example of our lives and through the verbal encouragement of together “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in [our] hearts to the Lord” (v. 16).


      This contemplation and mutual exhortation and spiritual worship is to make a sizable contribution to the Christian’s sanctification by the truth (John 17:17), the re-formation of the image of God in his children (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24). It is not possible to prove that Paul is here teaching us to employ other than the worship material inspired by the Holy Spirit of God and ordained for our use, i.e., other than the Book of Psalms, in this our inward and communal singing our way toward sanctification. The case for exclusive Psalmody is based both on the positive commands to sing the Psalms, and the absense of commands or warrant to offer anything else to God in worship song, all considered under the humble acceptance of the regulative principle of worship.


      An Argument against Exclusive Psalmody

      It is sometimes argued that Colossians 3:16 cannot be speaking of the Psalter alone, where it speaks of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” because these are said to be “the word of Christ.” This verse is used to support the claim that New Testament Christians were required to compose their own worship material — and the apostle Paul here, so it is argued further, also gives us a warrant and command to do so — since it is the Christians who really know about Christ, and who can therefore compose songs and hymns about Christ in a way that the Old Testament saints never could.


      This argument assumes that the apostle Paul’s phrase, “the word of Christ,” must be referring to words written about Christ rather than referring to Christ’s own words, since, so they say, it is clear to all that (the incarnate) Christ himself composed no psalms or hymns or spiritual songs. This assumption is essential for this argument against exclusive Psalmody. Sometimes in support of this argument it is pointed out that the psalmists of the Old Testament did indeed write some of their psalms explicitly and obviously “about Christ,” and it is these Messianic Psalms which are being referred to by Paul’s reference to “psalms” in Col. 3:16 (this would imply that for other of the Psalms which do not mention Christ, we have no warrant to sing them from this verse). So, those who argue thus interpret the verse to mean that Paul is giving the Church of Christ a command to sing these Messianic Psalms; and as for the “hymns and spiritual songs” which he mentions, these two categories the New Testament church is required to fill up with their own compositions which have the Messiah as their subject.


      As an aside, it needs to be said that even if this argument interprets the apostle’s command correctly (i.e., if Paul is only commanding us to sing the Messianic Psalms), then this is not done in the vast majority of churches which argue against exclusive Psalmody — because they rarely sing other than Psalms 23, 100, and a few verses taken from elsewhere in the Psalter. The number of churches around the world which use the Psalter alongside man-made hymns and songs is negligible compared with those that do not.


      Did the Holy Spirit really mean words about Christ, composed by men and women, whether supernaturally inspired or otherwise? There are at least seven reasons why the phrase “the word of Christ” (used in Col. 3:16) can only be referring to those “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” which were composed by Christ himself, and designed by him for his people on earth to use as material for worship song; that is, the Book of Psalms.


      The Logos gave us the Bible

      Firstly, the entire Bible, including the Book of Psalms, is indeed the “word of Christ,” because all the Holy Scriptures are given by inspiration of God (II Tim. 3:16), and Christ himself is the Word of God (John 1:1-3, 14, 18). It is through the Word of God, the Logos, and through the agency of the Holy Spirit, that God always makes himself known and reveals his truth. And so we see that our use of that part of the “word of Christ” which has been given for us to sing (i.e., the Psalms) has also been given by God through the Spirit of Christ. Therefore, it does no good for those who are opposed to the doctrine of exclusive Psalmody to object that during his incarnate earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus Christ never composed any psalms or hymns or songs, for this Christ is the eternal Son of God, and it is he who ultimately gave the Psalms, just as he gave the rest of Holy Scripture. Back of David, Asaph, Moses, Heman and Ethan, the Lord Jesus Christ himself is the great composer of the Psalter.


      Therefore, even the Psalter is the “word of Christ,” along with all the Holy Scripture. But this fact too is sometimes used in an attempt to argue against exclusive Psalmody, where it is sometimes said that, if the whole Bible is the “word of Christ” then surely we see warrant herein for the composition of songs based upon the whole Bible. However, in this very passage under consideration the Holy Spirit does not have in mind the whole Bible, but only those “psalms and hymns and songs spiritual” which had been organized by the Spirit into the people of God’s body of worship material, which body was already in existence well before the time when the New Testament was written. There is no command or license in Col. 3:16 for the Christian church to compose anything in addition to this.


      The Psalms are a Summary of the Bible

      Secondly, the Psalter is a God-given summary of all the Divine revelation — “all wisdom” revealed through the Logos, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, especially designed for singing. This is why the Psalter can rightly be referred to by such an all-embracive term as the “word of Christ.” If it was the Spirit of Christ’s design to compose the worship material of the people of God, and if this is what he has done in the Psalter, then it is to be expected that the Psalter will fully declare God’s glory to his people in a way that is suited for them to understand and to sing in their worship of him.


      We must worship God for who he is in himself, as manifest to us through his perfections (i.e., the attributes of God’s character), and for his works in creation, providence and salvation — in fact, for all that God has done, and presently does, and also will do with respect to his covenant people and in glorifying himself. These doctrines are all found in the Psalter.


      Without any reservation, we must have the true and living God as our God (Exod. 20:3); and this means we are to worship him alone. We are also forbidden to worship any image or misconception of God (Exod. 20:4-6). We can therefore only employ that perfect worship material which Christ himself has provided for us, because Christians are not comprehensively perfected in their understanding of God and the things of God until they are glorified in heaven. And we are not to take the name of the Lord in vain (Exod. 20:7); which we would be doing if we took into our hearts and upon our lips anything other than that perfect, guaranteed true in doctrine, worship material which the Word of God has given us to sing.


      In the light of these Commandments, we should expect that the worship material which God has thus provided for his people to be a comprehensive summary of all the doctrines of the Bible, together with a summary of Bible history and prophesy. And this is exactly what we do find in the Psalter.


      As we have seen, the apostle Paul also commands us to “be filled with the Spirit” and to sing to the Lord the same “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” in our private devotions (Eph. 5:19). Just as with our congregational worship of God in song, in our private devotions we are commanded to employ the worship material with which the Word of God himself has furnished us. Even while we we sing the Psalms into our memories and meditate upon them in our private, personal devotions (besides studying elsewhere in the Scriptures), the Holy Spirit is sanctifying us by the truth of God’s word (see John 17:17), and hereby we are being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2).

      We can all testify to the usefulness of song to help is memorize the message of the song. The entertainment and advertisement industries know this well, as is evidenced by their theme tunes and jingles. ‘Pop’ and ‘rock’ musicians also know well how to get their message across and to embed it into their listeners’ minds. Surely there are no better songs to sing and memorize than those with which Christ himself has provided us.


      The Christ gave us the Psalms

      Thirdly, seeing that the Psalter is the “word of Christ,” it is given to us with Christ’s royal authority, which no other book of hymns has: it is only the Book of Psalms that Christ has given his people to sing. The Spirit of Christ compiled the Psalter, by composing its contents through inspired men and later causing them to be gathered together into one place. As the Messiah, the Lord Jesus represents his people before God as High Priest, Prophet and King; and he takes our worship, perfects it and joins it with his own, and offers it to his Father and ours. The Psalms comprise exactly the sort of thing that Christians, in their sinful-yet-being-saved humanity, should wish to pray to God, and to sing to God in their worship of him. They are suitable to be employed in their worship of God, both privately and in congregations of any size — from the family unit up.


      The Lord Jesus Christ, as the Anointed One, is the great High Priest of the people of God. He himself is the very means whereby the sinners whom he has saved can and do have access to God (Heb 4:16; Rom 5:2). So it is through Christ that our worship is brought into the very sanctuary of God. We being “in Christ” worshipping the Father, the songs that we sing become again the very word of Christ to the Father! The more we grasp this important fact, the less we should want to take upon our own lips, and take deep into our own hearts and minds, any worship material other than that which the High Priest himself has composed.


      Our great High Priest is also our ultimate King (I Tim. 6:13-16; Rev 17:14; 1:16). Therefore the Lord Jesus Christ, as our Lord and King, himself possesses exclusively the right to set before his people the very worship material which they should employ in their worship of God. And if no less than the King of kings has given us to sing the Psalms in our worship of God, who are we that we should refuse him, or add to his perfect, wise and sufficient provision, or depart from it in any way?


      Our great High Priest and King is also our ultimate Prophet. As such, it is he who reveals all the fullness of the Godhead to us in himself (Deut. 8:15-19; Acts 3:22, 23; 7:37; John 1: 18; Col. 2:9; Luke 10:22) and in his word, for he is the very Word of God. Therefore, if we are to praise God aright — that is, if we are to take upon our own lips worship material which is pure and free from all heresy and contamination of error — then the only worship material which we can employ is that which our Prophet has furnished us with, specifically designing it for our use. Moreover, as the One who has perfect discernment of the human condition, yet himself without sin (Heb. 4:15), and who, as no other man, can understand the human heart (cf. Jer. 17:9), surely it is only Christ who can fully appreciate what we his people have in him, and for which we ought to worship God. Only Christ our Prophet fully perceives and understands the work of salvation which God the Holy Spirit is working in us. And only Christ can understand how far we possess this work during our earthly life, being not yet fully sanctified while we remain in this world. Here we see the real worth of the Psalms, for these, more than any mere human composition ever can, speak truly concerning our hearts and the salvation which God is working in us. For the Psalter, so unlike any mere human composition, and so unlike any mere human selection or summary of the Scriptures, is “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (see Heb 4:12).


      Therefore we see that we are indeed closed up to exclusive Psalmody. Only the Psalter is that “word of Christ” our Prophet, King and High Priest. Rather than imagining that the phrase “the word of Christ” is a license for making hymns and songs out of any part of Holy Scripture of our own choosing, we find therein three unavoidable considerations: Which “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” are they that the Lord Jesus Christ, our Anointed Prophet, himself composed and designed for our use in worship song to God? Which are they that our Anointed King himself ordained for the use of his people, and himself sang as our perfect and royal example? Which are they that our Anointed High Priest would take upon his own lips (again) and offer them to God with us and on our behalf in his intercession for us?


      But there is still much more that we can see in this phrase, “the word of Christ.”


      The People of God’s Hymnbook

      Fourthly, our Anointed Covenant Head fully identifies with his people, shares their woes, temptations, fears, concerns, joys, thankfulness, and everything else that is given voice in the Psalter. The contents of the Psalms were exactly the sort of thing that the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ would (and did) sing to God, himself being a true Jew — except that in his case, since he  “knew no sin” (II Cor. 5:21), he did not need to entreat God for forgiveness; but in the Psalms he encourages us and provides a vehicle for us to do so.


      Even while “God was manifest in the flesh” (I Tim 3:16), even he sang the Psalms — and thereby did he set us the prefect and royal example. It was the Lord’s custom to attend synagogue (Matt. 12:9; 13:54; Mark 3:1; Luke 14:6). And there, no doubt, he would have participated in the singing of the Psalms. From childhood the Lord Jesus “went up to Jerusalem for the Passover” (Luke 2:41, 42) and other Jewish holy days. The Passover was, as often as possible, a time of pilgrimage to Jerusalem (e.g., II Kings 21-23; II Chron. 30:1, 2), and on such jouneys he doubtless would have joined in the singing of the “Songs of Degrees” (Psalms 120-134), also known as the “Songs of Ascents.” And we know that during his years of ministry he lead the singing of the “Great Hallel” when he took the Passover meal with his disciples (Matt. 26:17-30), these being the hymns that the Jews sang on that occasion.


      We can easily discern that the Psalter is written from the point of view of the people of God. The human composers of the Psalms had a genuine relationship with their God. He was their God, and they knew him personally. And in many ways the Lord’s people share like personal experiences in this world, whatever place in history. If we are the children of God, then these feelings, concerns, fears, joys and triumphs of the psalmists are ours too, both individually and in our families and congregations. Although the earthly pen-men forged their Psalms from their meditations on particular events in their own lives, the Spirit of Christ came upon them and gave them inspired words in order that their compositions became a generic expression of the hearts of the Lord’s people in all their life-experiences. Therefore we can fully sympathize with the human composers of the Psalms, even while communing with Christ who sympathizes with us; for we too are sinners saved by the sovereign grace of God in Covenant Head, who now live in a covenant relationship with him as our Father.

      Again, the Lord Jesus Christ is our Mediator, Representative and Advocate before God in heaven, before his Father and our Father. This means that all our worship of God is addressed and delivered to the Father through Christ. And it must only be this way, for there is only “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5). From this we can see again the true worth of the Psalter. As we sing them in spirit and in truth, in sincerity and verity, they become again the word of Christ — in whom we increasingly thereby dwell richly, and he in us richly. In the Psalter Christ fully identifies with his elect family, sharing their woes, their God-given hatred for wickedness, their fears, their concerns, their thankfulness to God for his deliverance, and every other emotion which is given voice therein.


      Those who sing the Psalms are thereby encouraged to learn a high and perfect view of God. In the Psalter we learn to see ourselves as we really are, both what it means to be sinners before God and in what it means to be the saved children of God “in Christ.” In the Psalter we learn to look to God in all our life situations, to turn to God from the world, from our sinful flesh and from all evil.

      As our perfect and great High Priest, King and Prophet, it is only right that the Lord Jesus Christ should have composed our worship material — and indeed he did so. We cannot do so for ourselves, for we are sinful and weak and ignorant and immature. The Book of Psalms perfectly supplies our need herein. The Psalms convict us of our sin, and they furnish us with perfect prayers with which we can beseech God for forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy, grace, strength to resist all manner of evil and adversity, and wisdom to understand our chastisement and affliction where God treats us as his sons and daughters (for this last point see Heb. 12:7-11; Psalms 88:7, 90:15; 119:67, 71, 75; Isa. 49:13; 63:9; Nah. 1:12; II Cor. 1:6). Indeed, such chastisement should give us the desire to pray through to the break of a day of joy, and to engage in singing the Psalms all the more: “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (Jam. 5:13)! The Psalms accurately show us where we are weak in our bodies, in our minds, in our hearts, in our relationships, and in our faith; and they put the very prayers into our hearts and on our lips that we should be praying, if only we knew our need and were humble enough to stammer our petitions to God.


      As our King, Christ can speak for us before God, for he is righteous and he rules us wisely, knowing us well, knowing what we really need from God. As our Prophet, Christ has a perfect discernment of God’s perfections and works, and tells them forth on our behalf in his worship of God, which is also our worship of God, since we are “in Christ,” and he is the Bridegroom of his Bride the church (Rom. 8:1; 12:5; I Cor. 1:2, 30; 3:23; 15:22; II Cor. 5:17; Gal. 3:26; Eph 1:3; 2:6; Rev. 19:9; 21:2). As our High Priest, he knows well our frame; he knows our needs and therefore he knows exactly what we should petition God for, since he is our Advocate before the Father (I Tim. 2:5; I John 2:5). And he also knows exactly all for what we ought to give God thanks.


      Anyone who has seriously studied the Psalms, such as all members of exclusively Psalm-singing churches are constantly doing, will appreciate that the Psalms were written from the point of view of the person who has a real relationship with God, whose inner man is being quickened and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. No mere unregenerate man can truly worship God, but only he whose spirit within him is made alive again (I Pet. 1:3; John 4: 23, 24). Moreover, the Psalms were written by the One who fully appreciates God, who perfectly understands God — who knows, and is, himself the Truth of God. Thus in Christ’s own Hymnbook, the Book of Psalms, God is truly and properly praised for all of his perfections and works. Now, the Lord Jesus Christ is that one Man who fully worships God in spirit and in truth, whose own worship material he has set forth in the Psalter. The Psalms are thus the praises that Christ would (and did, and still does in his Intercession) offer to his Father, and they are the praises which he would have his people to offer to his Father. (Moreover, the Psalter was originally called the Sepher Tehillim in the Hebrew: the “Book of Praises.”) Even in those Psalms which are more obviously the Messianic prophetic Psalms (e.g., Psalm 22), Christ also therein fully identifies with his people and has them fully identify with him as his “Bride” (Rev. 21:2, 9): they take these Psalms upon their lips and these reflect their experience as the ambassadors and representatives of Christ in the world; and yet Christ also truly went through these things himself.


      The truth is that all the Psalms in all their parts are songs of the Messiah, as he thereby fully identifies with his one covenant people in all ages. And notice that if Christ identifies with all generations of his people, thereby are all his people wonderfully one in him, and one with Christ himself; and Christ is one with God the Father (see also John 17:20-23; Rom 4:1-25; 11:1-36; Gal. 3:7-29). This is the ultimate in solidarity. This is the very heart of the everlasting covenant of grace! If we grasp this important truth, it will make the Psalms ever so precious to us; for truly they possess an abundance of good things which no mere man-made compositions have. The Psalms are both a summary of the full history of the people of God, past, present and future, and a full biography of individual believers (as the “anatomy of all the parts of the soul,” to use John Calvin’s famous expression) — and yet they are at the same time the autobiography of Christ the Covenant head, the Bridegroom, the One who went through what we go through, yet without sins of his own.


      The Sinless Sin-Bearer

      Fifthly, Even the penitential prayers in the Psalms are the “word of Christ,” because he has taken upon himself the sins of his people, and he has had poured out upon himself the Divine punishment for our sins. We can even appreciate that where the incarnate Messiah joined in the penitential Psalms sung in the home and in the synagogue and in the Temple festivals (e.g., Psalm 51), he sang them on behalf of his people whom he represented, carrying them in his bosom — himself being already mindful of the awful judgment of God upon the sins of his people, which he would recieve in his sufferings and death on the cross (Isa. 53:5-6, 10-12; II Cor. 5:21). So even in the singing of these penitential Psalms himself, Christ was exercising his High Priestly office. He took our sins upon himself — he became sin for his people (II Cor. 5:21). He suffered for sin in place of us, and  obtained God’s forgiveness for us, which God could now give because of Christ's propitiation of the sins of his people (see Rom. 3:21-26).


      The Heart of Christ

      Sixthly, in the light of what has been said in the third, fourth and fifth points above, we can appreciate that the whole Psalter is the word of Christ indeed; and therein do we see the very heart of Christ being expressed in all that he went through during his ministry upon the earth, and more. For example, we see his human concerns about his enemies encompassing him, and we see his desire to give God all the glory. He is the ultimate godly, righteous Man who can utter those Psalms which tell of the righteousness of the one singing; a righteousness which is his in his Divinity; which is the same righteousness that is bestowed upon his people by imputation (Psa. 34:15-21; 64:10; 68:3; 140:13; 146:8; Rom. 1:17; 3:21, 22; I Cor. 1: 30; II Cor. 5:21; Gal. 2:21; 3:6).


      We also see Christ’s anguish on the cross very clearly: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? … All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. … I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. … I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. … All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD’s: and he is the governor among the nations … A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this” (Psalm 22; cf. Matt. 27:35-50).


      The Mind of Christ

      Seventhly, all the foregoing explains why the Psalms were so often on Christ’s lips as being his own words, evidencing that they were very much in his mind as being his own thoughts, which he quoted and thereby fulfilled during his earthly ministry (e.g., Matt. 5:5; 7:23; 21:16; 27:46; Luke 23:46). And all the foregoing also shows us why the apostles in their writings (and doubtless in their preaching too) quote from the Psalms more than any other Old Testament Scripture (e.g., I Cor. 10:26; 15:27; Heb. 1:5-13; 2:6-8; Acts 7:59; 13:33; Rom. 4:7, 8; I Pet. 3:10-12).


      The Holy Spirit has been sent to the Lord’s people with the commission to take from what is Christ’s and make it known unto us (this surely includes opening to them the deep things in the Psalms). Therefore, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).


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