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Acceptable Prayer

"Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" - Matthew vi. 10.

These words are part of what is commonly called "The Lord's Prayer," and it is one of the petitions which our Lord Jesus Christ taught His disciples to present to God. I must assume that certain things are admitted by my readers, among them, that you admit that the will of God is perfectly done in heaven, that God is perfectly obeyed there, and that everything is done there perfectly in accordance with His will. This I shall not attempt to prove, but shall take for granted that it is admitted by all my readers. In speaking from the words of our text, I design to call to your attention:

I. Some of the principal relations in which the will of God may be contemplated.

II. What is implied in an acceptable offering of this petition to God.

III. That to be in this state of mind is a present and universal duty.

IV. The guilt of not being in this state of mind.

V. This state of mind is a condition of salvation.

I. Some of the principal relations in which the will of God may be contemplated.

Now, observe that God must be a moral agent if He is a virtuous being. This I take to be a universally known truth and conceded that God's virtue must be voluntary, that it must consist, substantially, in the same thing in which all virtue consists. If, then, God is a moral agent and a virtuous being, and has an intelligent will, He must live for some good and desirable end. He must exercise His will for some good purpose, and not act at random and without discretion or aim; but that wherever He exercises His agency, it is for some good purpose or end.

We say then, first, that God's will may be contemplated in relation to the end upon which it is fastened and which it is endeavoring to realize. In this must the virtue of God, and all other moral agents, substantially consist. If God has chosen a worthy and good end, He is a worthy and good being; but if He has chosen an unworthy end, He cannot be called a good being; for goodness cannot consist in divine substance, irrespective of divine action and will. God's virtue, then, consists in the attitude of His will.

Now, if I see that God has proposed to himself some great and good end, upon which His heart is set-upon which it was set from all eternity - and that this design and aim is really what it ought to be - what the divine intelligence would point out as an end worthy of being chosen and realized, then I can understand the relation of God's will and character thus far: that He is pursuing an end well worthy of himself. We are told in His Word that this end is to secure His own glory and the good of the entire universe.

In the second place, the will of God may be contemplated in respect to the means which He uses in order to secure this end. I refer to the government of God: as all that is implied in the movements of the universe that secure the end at which He aims. We may contemplate the will of God as it relates to both physical and moral government: as it relates to the arrangements and order of nature - the physical universe which He has created; and as it relates also to the moral government - rewarding the good, and punishing the guilty.

The will of God also may be contemplated as the will of a sovereign, who exercises sovereignty over His people; not arbitrarily, for which there is no reason, but in that He acts according to His own will without consulting any other being. God's will, then, may be contemplated in relation to His character, His government, the exercise of His providential government in the physical creation; and in respect to all moral agents, prescribing the law and showing how it was to be obeyed, and then punishing those who refuse to obey and rewarding those who do obey. God's will may be regarded as the law of the sovereign, acting according to His own discretion, and aiming at those things which to himself shall seem wise.

II. What is implied in an acceptable offering of this petition to God.

"Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." Now, doubt less, when our Lord Jesus Christ taught His disciples to pray this prayer, He meant something more than that they should just repeat these words. They were intelligent beings and moral agents, and doubtless He intended that they should express the state of their own minds. He would not, therefore, have them understand that they would be regarded as offering acceptable prayer because they offered this mere form. He intended that they should use this language in sincerity of heart, understanding and meaning what they said. I suppose this will not be doubted. Then the question which we have to answer is, "What is the state of mind required in an individual, and which must be implied in his offering such a petition as this to God?"

The acceptable offering of this petition must imply that the petitioner understands what God's will is. I mean this, he must have some knowledge of the true character and will of God. If he has not a true conception of this, he may fall into grievous errors. Suppose an individual should conceive of God as a selfish being. Suppose that he should conceive of God's will as being neither wise nor good; and if with this state of mind, he should pray for God's will to be done in the earth, would he offer an acceptable petition to God? By no means.

Then, to be acceptable, he must conceive rightly of what God's will is. He must regard God as a wise and good being. For if God's will was neither wise nor good, people ought not to do His will. Suppose that God's will was neither wise nor good, and yet He should require us to offer this petition, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven"-and that there was nothing, neither wise nor good, done in heaven, it could not be our duty, as moral agents, to offer such a petition. The offering of this petition, then, implies that we understand God's will as perfect, both as to its wisdom and goodness.

An acceptable offering of this petition must imply that we have implicit confidence in His will, as being perfectly wise and perfectly good; for if we have not this confidence, we cannot honestly and intelligently pray this prayer.

The acceptable offering of such a petition as this implies sincerity of heart. If an individual asks anything of God, he is required to ask it in sincerity. But what is implied in an individual being sincere in asking this of God? It must imply that he really desires God's will should be done, that this petition is in accordance with His will and expressive of the true state of His heart. If it is not so, then the offering of such a petition would be hypocrisy. Of course it follows, secondly, that the state of mind which can sincerely offer this petition to God must be in entire harmony with the will of God, so far as God's will is known. If there is anything in which his will is not conformed to the will of God, he cannot offer this petition without base hypocrisy.

The acceptable offering of this petition implies, of course, that we understand and embrace the same end that God embraces; that is, that we really consecrate ourselves to the end for which God lives, and that we sympathize with Him in the end for which He consecrates and exercises all His attributes. If we have not the same end in view that God has, how can we say, "Thy will be done"?

Unless we sympathize with Him in the means that He uses, how can we say, "Thy will be done"?

An acceptable offering of this petition to God also implies a willingness to say and do just what He tells us. If we are not satisfied with the divine conduct in all respects, how can we say, "Thy will be done"? If we are not willing for Him to require of us just what He does; if we have in our hearts any objections to what He does; if we regard His will as exacting and unjust to us, we can never offer this petition acceptably. But suppose that intellectually we admit that His will is not grievous. That is not enough if the heart does not fully consent, for observe this prayer is to be the prayer of the heart.

The acceptable offering of this petition not only implies that we are willing that He should require just what He does, but that He should require it on the condition of all the pains and penalties upon which He does require it.

It implies an entire willingness on our part to obey Him.

How can a person sincerely pray, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven," who himself is not willing to do the will of God? If he is not truly and really obedient, to God's will as they are in heaven, so far as he knows His will, how can he offer such a petition as this? If he is resisting God's will on any point and in any form, he cannot without gross hypocrisy offer this petition. The offering of this petition implies that we sympathize with the spirit of heaven, that our hearts are really yielded up in most solemn and earnest devotedness to God. For how can people whose wills are not yielded up to the will of God, without being hypocrites, say to God, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven"? In heaven, the will of God is perfectly done, universally done; and shall a person acceptably offer such a petition as this if he is not in a state of mind to go the full length of God's will and subscribe heartily to it? It cannot be.

Observe, then, that the acceptable offering of this petition must imply present obedience in the heart to God. The will of the petitioner must have been given up to the control of the will of God. His will must be the expression of God's will so far as he knows it, or he cannot honestly offer such a petition as this to God. I say that the acceptable petitioner must do the whole of the will of God, so far as it is expressed, in whatever way it is made known: whether through Christ, through the Spirit, through providential arrangements and occurrences, through the Word of God, through the workings of his own heart and mind, or in whatever other way this will is made known.

The heart that is sincere in offering this petition must really embrace and express the whole of God's will as really and truly as it is embraced and expressed in heaven itself. By this I do not mean to affirm that the will of God is known to the same extent in earth as it is in heaven; but so far as it is known, the petitioner must as really and truly embrace it and obey it as they do in heaven. It is not to be supposed that God's will is fully known upon earth; undoubtedly many things concerning the will of God have not been fully revealed to us, so that we cannot understand all the details of His will; but, in so far as we understand it, there will be a willingness to obey it entirely.

The acceptable offering of this petition implies the absence of all selfishness in the mind that offers it. God is not selfish; selfishness is the will set upon itself, regardless of all else. The person who offers this petition cannot be selfish. The very petition implies the present absence of selfishness.

An acceptable offering of this petition implies that we really hold ourselves at the divine disposal as honestly and truly as we suppose they do in heaven. Who does not suppose that every being in heaven holds himself at the divine disposal? It must be that every being there considers himself as belonging to God - that to God all his powers are consecrated; and that any indication of the divine will as to how these powers are to be disposed is to be readily adopted and carried out by the agent himself. Who can conceive that there is any hesitation to do the known will of God in any particular?

To sincerely offer such a petition as this to God, there must be an entire consecration of the will and the whole being to Him. A person who offers this petition acceptably must be in such a state of mind as to consider that he has no right to the disposal of himself. He must lay his whole being upon God's altar and hold himself entirely at the divine disposal. The same is true of all he possesses.

Who doubts that everything in heaven is held as belonging to God? We know not what things the inhabitants of heaven have in possession, or what their employments are - what they may be employed about, and what instruments they may use to promote the great end that God is intending to realize. But this we know, that whatever they have influence over is all held at the divine disposal. No one in heaven thinks of disposing of anything to promote any selfish interests of his own. Who can believe that anyone there has a separate private interest?

Now, how should we regard our possessions if we are to offer this petition acceptably to God? Why, God's will respects the release of our possessions, our time, our talents, our influence, our character and everything to Him. These must be held at the divine disposal, given to the divine discretion, laid on His altar and left there. No one can offer this petition acceptably to God without doing this. If he would be selfish, and selfishly use anything in the whole world, he is in no state of mind to offer this petition to God. If he is endeavoring to promote his own will, do you suppose he is fit for heaven?

Do the inhabitants of the heavenly world act without consulting God, without reference to His will? No, indeed! When people say, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven," does not this imply that everything on earth is to be done at the divine disposal, and to be as truly disposed of for God as they are disposed of in heaven? Let it be understood, then, that he who offers this petition to God must as really design to obey Him, use all his powers and everything that he possesses for His glory, just as they do in heaven. If he has not this deliberate and solemn purpose in his mind, what does he mean by such a petition as this?

The offering of this petition implies that the petitioner is really and truly willing to make sacrifices of any personal ease and comfort for the promotion of God's glory, so far as he understands that he ought. Who doubts that in heaven they are willing to be sent to any part of the universe, or to give up personal case or anything else for the promotion of the great end for which God is aiming? We are informed in the Bible that "angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them who are heirs of salvation."

Any moment they may be called to self-denial and arduous labor. Doubtless they are often called, but do they hesitate, do they consider it a hardship? No; because they sympathize with God and with Christ in this great work. They do not hesitate to make any personal sacrifices that are demanded of them. They are perfectly cheerful and happy in it. Now, a person who would say, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven," must be willing to make any sacrifice that he knows is to be in accordance with the will of God. If it is plainly a matter of duty for him to do this or that, to go here or there, he must be perfectly willing to comply, or how can he offer this petition?

The state of mind in which this petition can be acceptably offered implies that there is an opposition to sin as real as there is in heaven. I suppose not to the same degree, because we have not the same appreciation of its character that they have; but, insofar as it is understood here, the individual that offers this petition is as really opposed to sin as they are in heaven.

An individual who offers this petition acceptably to God must have as real a sympathy with all that God has as they have in heaven. In heaven they doubtless sympathize with all that is good, so the individual who offers sincerely this prayer must have intense hatred to all that is wicked, and must deeply sympathize with all that is good. There must be as true a renunciation of self and all selfishness, and as genuine a disposition to please God in every heart that offers this petition, as there is in heaven. I speak not of degree, because I suppose we do not apprehend these things so clearly as they do; but, insofar as we understand what God loves, our sympathy must be as real as it is in heaven.

III. That to be in this state of mind is a present and universal duty.

Every person is bound, now, to be in this state of mind. I say every man; not merely Christian ministers and professing Christians, but every moral agent is bound to be in this state.

It is demanded by the nature of things. How can people be released from this obligation? Every person knows that he ought to obey God; he affirms it by an affirmation that is irresistible. Everyone knows that God's will is wise and good. Who ever heard this called in question by anyone who had a true idea of God developed in his mind? Every moral agent admits he is bound to consent that God's will should be done, and that he ought himself to do it.

Every moral agent knows, too, that it is not his duty merely to do this sometime or other, but it is his present duty. He has no right for a moment to resist the divine will. I need not, of course, enlarge upon this part of the subject, because I suppose that these truths need only to be stated to be universally recognized and affirmed to be true, as seen in the light of their own evidence. Are not men so constituted as to have it confirmed by a law of their own nature that they ought to conform to the will of God? They would not be moral agents if they were under no obligation to obey the will of God.

IV. The guilt of not being in this state of mind.

If an individual is not in this state of mind, he refuses to sympathize with God. If he knows that all God's aims are directed toward an end worthy of the pursuit of God, worthy of the Creator of the universe, and yet he refuses to agree with God in this end, he sets it at naught, he turns his back upon it, though he knows it is good.

If an individual is not in this state of mind, he is unwilling that God should govern the universe, not only in relation to the end that He seeks, but also in the means that He uses. He refuses his consent that God should govern the universe in any shape. The man who will not obey God's law, really rebels against the will of the lawgiver; he actually refuses to consent that God should govern.

Let me say that the individual who is not in this state of mind really refuses in his heart to consent that God should be good. He would not have God do what He is doing. He is unwilling to obey Him. He would rather that God did not require what He does; that He would not do what He does do; and yet these things are implied in the goodness of God and are essential to His goodness. God would not be a good being if he did not require and do just as He does. The individual who is not in this state of mind, then, refuses to consent that God should be a good being-that God should do that which He knows is proper to do. Now just think of this, he rebels against that which constitutes the very goodness of God.

The individual who is not in this state of mind really refuses that God should comply with the necessary conditions of His own happiness; for the necessary conditions of God's happiness must be His virtue. An individual who is unwilling to obey God is unwilling that God should comply with the necessary conditions of His own happiness. The individual who is in this state of mind cannot say, "Thy will be done," for he is really at war with the holiness and happiness of God - he is arrayed against both.

He is unwilling that God should will as He does. And since holiness belongs to His will and consists in willing as He does will, all God's actions are included in the actions of His will. The individual who is not in harmony with God not only refuses to sympathize with Him, but he also refuses to consecrate himself to the end for which God is consecrated. He arrays himself against God.

Yes, he virtually says, "Let God cease to be. Let Him not require what He does. Let Him not pursue the end that He does. Let Him not govern the universe; let not His will be universal law!" He may just as well go one step further and say, "Let God not be happy; let Him be infinitely and eternally miserable." For if God were not holy, who does not know that He would be infinitely unholy? And I tremble to say it, but who does not know that if God were a wicked being, instead of a good being, the workings of His own infinite nature would fill His mind with infinite agony?

Now, observe, what does a man mean when he takes this attitude - that he will not consent to have God's will done, that he will not obey Him, that he is virtually opposed to His being good? Why, if God is not good, what must be the consequences? If He may not will as He does, and require as He does, and do as He does, He must do the opposite! And does not sin imply this - that the sinner really takes this attitude? Yes, it does! People who refuse sincerely to offer this petition are opposed to the holiness and the happiness of God, and would consent to the eternal overthrow and total ruin of God and His whole empire! This is certainly implied in resistance to the will of God.

Let it be understood that no moral agent can be indifferent to the will of God: he must either subscribe to it, or resist it: he must yield himself to it, or array himself against it! And if against it, no thanks to him if there is any particle of good in God's universe; no thanks to any moral agent who cannot honestly and sincerely subscribe to this petition. It matters not to him if any being in the universe is either holy or happy! He is opposed to it all! The state of his mind is perfectly opposed to it all, and, were he to have his will, he would annihilate the whole of it, and introduce sin and misery into every part of the universe. How great, then, must be the guilt of an individual who has his will opposed to the will of God. I could expand upon this at large, but must now proceed to my next point.

V. This state of mind is a condition of salvation.

By a condition of salvation, I don't mean that it is the ground upon which sinners will be saved, that they will be saved because of universal and perfect obedience. But I affirm this, that it is a condition in this sense, that without being in this state, salvation is both naturally and governmentally impossible.

It is naturally impossible. Heaven is no place for the person whose will is not in harmony with the will of God. Suppose that he entered there, he would introduce a jarring note. He would introduce discord; heaven would be no place for him.

It is governmentally impossible for him to possess heaven, whose will is not in harmony with the will of God. God is the Governor of the universe. God's will is infinite, and where God is, His will must be the law. In every community there must be some one mind that sways every other, or there will be discord. Some will must give law to the universe. There must be someone whose will is universally confided in as perfect, and that will must be universally performed or there will be jarring, there will be clashing. God, therefore, as Governor of the universe, must be obeyed. The indication of His will must carry all minds with it. Now, to the person who hates God's will, this would be intolerable; therefore, governmentally it is impossible for any person to enter heaven who cannot sincerely say, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Now to make a few observations. How shocking it must be for people to use the Lord's Prayer as a mere form. Just think of it! While he is living in known sin, an individual offers such a petition to God! What can he mean? What profanity! What blasphemy is involved in it! It makes one's hair stand on end to hear an individual pray in that manner to Jehovah, the heart - searching God.

How shocking it is for some congregations (many of whom, perhaps, are unconverted, ungodly men and women) to make use of such petitions as this, pretending to worship God. Yet how common it is to repeat this prayer as a mere form; and it is often introduced into the nursery, and the children repeat it without being told what is implied in it. Why, no wonder their hearts become hardened. But perhaps someone will say, "If this be so, I will not offer this petition at all." But what petition, I ask, will you offer? For remember that you can offer no petition acceptably unless you offer it sincerely!

For example, let us read over these very petitions. "After this manner, therefore, pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven." What does this imply? Why, the recognition of God's relation as our Father. "Hallowed be thy name." What is implied in that? Why, a similar state of mind as that which I have just pointed out. "Thy kingdom come." What is implied in the offering of that petition? Why, that you have set your heart upon the same end that God has, that your will is to obey His will, that you are consecrated to the interests of His kingdom.

Then follows the petition contained in the text, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." "Give us this day our daily bread." What is implied in that? Why, the recognition of the universal providence of God. "And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors"; not, as some say, "forgive us our trespasses, and enable us to forgive them which trespass against us"; but "as we forgive them which trespass against us."

If you do not forgive the trespasses of others, you pray to God not to forgive you yours. It implies, then, a most forgiving state of mind on your part. I have often been acquainted with the state of mind of certain individuals in respect to others, and I have wondered, when they attempted to pray the Lord's Prayer, that this petition did not choke them. How many people, when they pray this prayer, really pray to God that He would not forgive them at all'? For they don't forgive their enemies.

But let us proceed a step. "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." What state of mind does this imply? Why, a dread of sin, and an opposition of the heart to it; and a most sincere yearning of soul to be conformed to everything that is good. "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen."

Now, suppose that any should say, "Why, if this is a true exposition of the Lord's Prayer, I shall never dare to offer it again." And what prayer will you offer? Take any other petition, and does not an acceptable offering of it by you imply that you agree with God, and that you will submit to all His will? Can you expect Him to hear and answer you unless you are in an obedient state of mind? Why, if you expect Him to hear and answer you while you refuse to obey Him, you do not regard the plain declaration of His Word, which says, "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination."

"Well," some of you say, "if this be true, it is no use for a sinner to pray." What do you mean by that? Of no use for a sinner to pray! Well, of what use can it be for a sinner to lie to God and mock Him? Do you ask me if I mean to prohibit sinners praying? I say, no! But I want to prevent their being hypocrites. Let them pray, but let them cease to be sinners, and submit themselves to the will of God. They should consecrate themselves to God at once. It is their present duty. They need not say, "I will not pray because I am a sinner!"

What business have you to be a sinner? "My will is not in a right state," you say. But why is it not in a right state? The sinner is bound to pray on pain of eternal death, but he has no right to tell lies to God. He is bound to be sincere and honest with God.

And is it difficult for people to be honest and sincere? Is it an impossible thing? For my right hand, I would not discourage any individual from praying; and neither, for my right hand, would I encourage him to pray with a heart wicked and rebellious against God. The truth is, men ought to know that they are shut up by the divine requirements and the affirmations of their own minds to unqualified submission to the will of God upon pain of eternal death.

It is easy to see, from what has been said, that a great many individuals offer the Lord's Prayer and other prayers, and leave it for others to do the will of God. They pray, "Thy will be done" but they leave it to others to perform this will.

It is easy to see what it is to be truly religious; it is to have the will entirely given up to God. It implies, of course, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and much more of which it is not now my design to discuss, as I must confine my attention to the point before us.

Many people will say that this ought to be the state of their minds, that they ought to offer this prayer in sincerity without solemnly inquiring, "Am I really willing that God's will should be done? Do I really do it?" But this is implied in an acceptable offering of this petition, that, for the time being, we are in a state in which we really do all we know of our duty. By a necessary law, if the will is right, the outward life will correspond.

There is an amazing degree of carelessness among many people as to what they really say in prayer. They begin, and talk right on, without considering that God requires truth in the inward parts. They often say many things that are not true. They verify what the Lord says, "They did flatter him with their mouths, and they lied unto him with their tongues."

While individuals are not in this state of mind, there is no true peace. While their wills are not under the control of God's will, and while they are not devoted to him, what multitudes of things are continually occurring to agonize them and destroy their peace of mind! But when individuals yield up their wills to the will of God, they breathe an atmosphere of love, and live in profound peace and tranquillity.

When people are in this state of mind, and regard everything as an expression in some sense of God's will, how easily God's will sits upon them!

Much that is called prayer is really an expression of self- will. I would here refer to a case that occurred some years ago in the western part of the State of New York. A gentleman of high standing, intelligent and influential, became very annoyed by the minister of the congregation where he usually attended, pressing upon his hearers the fact that they were not willing to be Christians. The man to whom I refer insisted that he was willing - had long been willing - to become a Christian. His wife remarked that she had never seen him so irritated before upon any subject.

The minister kept turning that over, and pressing it upon the people that they were not Christians because they were not willing to become Christians. But this man was obstinate in affirming that he knew, for his own part, that he was willing to become a Christian, and would anybody deny that he knew the state of his own conscience? He went home in this state of mind one evening, and in the morning his mind was so weighed down that he sought relief by going in a place alone to pray.

He kneeled down to pray, but found that he could not pray; he could not think of anything that he really wished to say. It occurred to him to say the Lord's Prayer. The moment he opened his mouth to say, "Our Father," he stopped to consider, Do I recognize God as my Father? He hesitated and trembled to say it. "Hallowed be thy name." No, that is not the expression of my heart. "Thy kingdom come" was the next petition, and he said he was conscious he never wanted the kingdom of God to come, that he had never lived to promote it, and was not living now to promote it.

Then he came to the next petition, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." He paused for a moment, and the inquiry rushed upon him, How is God's will done in heaven? Am I willing that it should be done in earth? Am I willing to do it myself? As these inquiries came over him, he perceived for the first time what was included in being a Christian. He now saw that to be a Christian implied that the heart should be consecrated to God, that he should fully obey God's will. He felt that he did not do that; that he never had done that; that never, by his own will, had the will of God governed him.

He continued upon his knees, and the perspiration poured down him, because he was in such agony of mind. He now felt what the minister had said was true, and the question came up, Why am I not willing to be a Christian? He felt there was no reason why he should not, and no excuse that he could make for refusing any longer. If he was not willing to do as he ought, he felt he ought to go to hell, and be willing to go and take the consequences, that he ought to be sent there and have no disposition to open his mouth by way of objecting.

He himself said, "I gathered up all my soul and energies, and rose up in my strength, and cried at the top of my voice, 'Thy will be done.' I know that my will went with my words; and then so great a calmness came over me that I can never express it, so deep a peace instantly took possession of me. It seemed as if all was changed; my whole soul justified God and took part against itself."

I need not enter into this further; but let me say, dearly beloved, when you go away, can you kneel before your Maker and say, "O my God, let your will be done in earth as it is in heaven, require just what you do, require of me just what you do; 0 God, my whole being cries out, Let your will be universally done in earth as it is in heaven"? Or can you not say that? You ought to be able to say it, and to be honest in saying it; but if you never have yet, let me ask you to do so at this very moment. If you have never found peace before, you shall know what it is to go to bed in peace for once. You shall know what that peace of God is that passes understanding, and drink of the river of His pleasures. Do not rest until the attitude of your mind is to do all the will of God.


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