Let's be reasonable with one another, shall we?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Balance in the Force?

I just want to tell my readers something that I have figured out about my own position in the discussion of certain doctrines. Then, I want you to tell me what you think about it.

I get into these discussions constantly about Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. It is, it seems, an ever present struggle for me. Also, as of late, I have found myself drawn into the discussion about what is required for salvation. Is believing in Christ and receiving the free gift of salvation enough? Or … is there a list of things that go along with this that are necessary for rescue from damnation? I don’t really like to argue, and I hope my readers know this. When I blogged about these things, it was not because I was looking for an argument. I am just a person who has been saved and received something wonderful from the Lord and I want to be sure that I know what I can tell others about this. Of course, I read the Bible myself and study and figure much of it out. However, I feel troubled when I talk to another person who is in the same situation as I (born-again believer reads the Bible) and they emphasize a completely different take on something that I think is pretty important. If it were something non-essential, like what version of the Bible I use, or whether or not the church is going through any of the Great Tribulation, then I wouldn’t worry about it so much. These afore mentioned two issues are not of a non-essential nature, though, to my mind. They are important.

TULIP/Sovereignty of God - It is important for me to know whether or not I can say to someone, anyone I meet, “Jesus Christ loves you and died for your sin.”

Repentance/good works salvation connection - Can I tell a potential convert that all he/she can do is cast himself on the mercy of Christ and ask forgiveness for sins which was already obtained by Christ … or … do I need to tell them that they need to forsake sin and submit to the Lord, making a full commitment of their life to Him?

Do you see how it is not just an argument for the sake of argument, but a very important issue for me to make sure I have right? I always thought before that I did “get it.” But, I been challenged by Christians that I respect … and utterly shocked (having been quite naïve) that all evangelicals did not have the same understanding of the availability and simplicity of the gospel message that I cling to and proclaim. So, I have joined in the discussion and have read countless blogs, with comments, while studying my Bible on all the issues brought up.

Something has occurred to me though about why I may fall in the particular spot in the argument that I do, however.

Sovereignty of God – I seem to be emphasizing the responsibility (and thus, the implied ability) of man to respond to the gospel. This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in the Sovereignty of God. I do. Daniel (at Doulogos) encouraged me to look at the conversion of Cornelius. “Salvation is not a willy-nilly affair” … he told me. He is right. His pointing this out to me made me realize that perhaps in my struggle to turn the coin over before his eyes (and other Calvinists), I may be appearing as one who does think salvation is fortuitous. Well, I don’t think it is at all. God has ordered our steps and done everything to bring us the salvation that we all so desperately need. I truly believe this because the Bible teaches it! He is Sovereign. However, I believe the flip side of the coin, too. I believe that a person will perish if he does not respond to the salvation provided by God. We must believe and receive as the Bible teaches. (We’ve been over all of this … see the TULIP series in my sidebar, if you weren’t around here a couple of months ago).

Repentance/good works salvation connection - Anyways, I also think that Christians should live uprightly and repent of sin. When witnessing to an unbeliever, I don’t burden them down with a call to give up this sin and that sin, however. I try to get them to recognize the fact that they are a sinner and tell them that Christ has died for those sins, ALL of their sin, not just premarital sex and drug abuse, but jealousy and laziness etc… sin that we are all guilty of. If they place their trust in Christ, the first thing I encourage them to do is to devour the Word of God, because everything He wants us to know is right there. If I continue to be in contact with them, of course I encourage them to turn from sinful ways, appealing to their new desire to please the Lord, which I would hope they would be developing if they read His Word. However, I do realize that everyone is different and that our walk is different, individual to individual. Our experiences vary, our commitments vary, our “measures of faith” vary, and our zeal varies.

One thing is sure, however. Salvation is by grace through faith and that not of ourselves. It is the gift of God, not by works …

So ... there is what I understand about the two facets of each of those two issues (four facets in all).

Why do I emphasize the Responsibility of Man when it comes to the two-sided coin of Sovereignty of God/Responsibility of Man? Here is what occurred to me. I have been mostly surrounded by Calvinists since I hear of the whole doctrine. The Sovereignty of God is really emphasized in my circles. I believe, if I were surrounded by a bunch of Arminians, I would be striving with them for the Sovereignty of God! If I was in a church that taught Open Theism and that God is just waiting to see what happens, I am sure I would probably seem like a Calvinist ZEALOT to them.

Also, if I was in a group of Christians that were regularly “living it up” and claiming that God doesn’t mind … if my circles were saying, “We’re saved by Grace, after all, we can do whatever we like!” If this were the kind of people that I was exposed to, I think they might mistake me for a legalist, because I would challenge them on their idea. I don’t think we should “live however we like” and abuse the grace that has been given to us. There is a balance in the message of the Bible that I feel is missing in a lot of the Bible believers that I know.

Does anybody understand what I am saying here? Does it make any sense?

Brethren be willing to see both sides of the shield of truth. Rise above the babyhood which cannot believe two doctrines until it sees the connecting link. Have you not two eyes, man? Must you needs put one of them out in order to see clearly? (C. H. Spurgeon)


  • Rose, thank you for your sincere ponderings. I hear you. You are confused on how there can be so much dissention in an area that you find so clear and essential. I often feel the same way.

    Concerning God's sovereignty, I want to make a plea of my own. I think you may be experiencing dissonance in your mind because you have somewhat accepted the parameters in the discussion of the doctrine of God's sovereignty from a purely Calvinistic world-view.

    In my conviction, the Calvinistic view of God's sovereignty is very limited. I get the idea everytime I read a Calvinist that God would be less than God or sovereign if He didn't predestine and order all events in history!

    To me, it is absurd to imagine that for God to be in control of His universe He must therefore foreordain and initiate everything. I believe, in fact, that such a belief diminishes God, for that would suggest that God cannot control that which he hasn't foreordained and originated.

    It seems to me that the Calvinist believes that for man to be able to make genuine choices and have a free will would be tantamount to a denial that God is sovereign. What a small, narrow, disturbing and unfortunate view of God! One that actually robs Him of omnipotence!

    The conclusions that the Calvinist make are necessitated by their own particular concept of sovereignty which is required neither by the bible nor by logic.

    That God gave the power to man to make genuine, independent choices does not diminish God's control over the universe. Being omnipotent and omniscient God arranges circumstances as to keep man's rebellions from frustrating His purposes. In fact, God can and even does use man's free will to help fulfill His own plans and thus be even more glorified.

    God in His infinite power fits into His plan even the most rebellious thoughts and deeds of mankind. He is perfectly able to frustrate, prevent or use man's plans in order to fulfill His own, and He can does so without destroying man's ability to exercise free will.

    So in regards to this issue, Rose, I would suggest that you do not proceed to discuss this issue from the vantagepoint of their playingfield and position. Do not allow the discussion to preceed with their parameters, as they are found wanting, nerfing the power of God. This tension is biblically and logically unnessary.

    I was reading the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (JotGES) yesterday and when I saw you reference Cornelius as given the suggestion to do so by Daniel of Doulogos, I was pleased, for this is exactly where you should read. The following is a small tidbit of an article critiquing John MacArthur's book "The Gospel According to the Apostles" by Bob Wilkin:

    MacArthur claims that unbelievers are "incapable of any spiritual activity" (p. 67) and are "no more able to respond to God than a cadaver" (p. 64)...

    Are unbelievers really like that? Ephesians 2:1 does speak of unbelievers as being "dead" in their trespasses and sins. Yet that in no way means that they are "incapable of any spiritual activity" and are "no more able to respond to God than a cadaver."

    Interestingly, MacArthur later contradicts himself on this point, though he doesn't seem to realize it.

    In attempting to explain why Peter did not call Cornelius to repentance, MacArthur says, "it is evident that Cornelius was repentant" (p. 84, italics in original). Clearly he means that Cornelius "was already repentant" prior to Peter's message. Yet Cornelius was an unbeliever at that time! He didn't become regenerate until he heard Peter's message (cf. Acts 10:44).

    Cornelius is a biblical example which clearly shows that unbelievers indeed are capable of responding to God. Consider the message the unbeliever Cornelius received from God via an angel:

    "Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you" (Acts 10:31-32).15

    Did God actually speak to an unregenerate person? Yes! Did the unsaved person understand what God said? Absolutely! In fact, God also indicates that He had been hearing the prayers and appreciating the almsgiving of Cornelius, an unbeliever (10:31).

    Note also Acts 10:34b-35:

    In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

    Peter was talking about unbelievers like Cornelius! Unbelievers can and sometimes do fear God and even work righteousness. Of course, such righteous deeds (cf. 10:31 re. almsgiving) are incapable of meriting favor with God: "All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags" (Isa 64:6). Yet unbelievers can and do seek God, as Cornelius obviously did.

    I realize, Rose that that I quoted a journal article when I could have given the link, but this small quote was the only thing I wanted to reference.

    The whole journal article can be found here:

    MacArthur's 'Faith Works' Critiqued

    Regarding your Spurgeon quote, I heartily disagree. God given logic precludes the notion that one should consider two contradictory doctrines as truth.


    By Blogger Antonio, at 1/17/2006 1:46 PM  

  • Rose,

    I appreciate your struggles. I have wrestled with many of the same. I won't try to supply answers for you as that sometimes has the effect of keeping a person from growing, a problem that permeates the "church system".

    But let me say this:

    Once again Antonio makes a good point. That point being that strict Calvinists are too narrow in their beliefs and thinking, and I have been finding them unwilling, or unable, to move out from under their positions long enough to glimpse a greater truth. Whatever that truth may be.

    Focus can be good if it is not exercised to the exclusion of all else. Doctrines are teachers, not a life raft. The "either or" scenario only applies in limited cases.

    We are learning and growing. As Sha'ul said, when he became an adult, he put away childish things. It is our understanding of YHWH, not of what man believes about Him, that will bring us into a proper relationship with who He is in truth.

    If you seek only answers, you will hear many voices. If you seek Him, you will know the truth.

    Be blessed in your search


    By Blogger Ephraim, at 1/17/2006 2:32 PM  

  • What is required for salvation -- it is plain and simple: Believe in Christ and you will be saved. Look to Christ in faith.

    Now I am a "hard core" Calvinist. When I interview people for membership at my church, what do I ask them? I ask them do they put their trust in Christ alone for their salvation. I don't ask them if they hold to the ill defined TULIP, nor other things. I want to see them profess faith in Christ alone, that He has done all the work, lived the perfect life in their place, taken theiir sin an paid all of it on the cross.

    Look to Jesus. All the other stuff, while I think it is important to know, is very much secondary.

    By Blogger Earl, at 1/17/2006 2:52 PM  

  • Rose,

    I agree with Ephraim about seeking answers when we ought to be seeking Christ.

    By Blogger Daniel, at 1/17/2006 3:17 PM  

  • ...on a very seconday issue, what about Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom? Only Hyper-Calvinists believe there is no human liberty with God's sovereignty. Even within the Calvinist sphere of things, they don't see God micro-managing every little detail. God ordained every little detail -- but that is quite different than saying God directly causes everything. Ordaining simply means that God established the logical necessity for everything to happen -- nothing more.

    Human freedom is the ability of humans, out of their complex of dispositions in which there are many kinds of competing desires, to do what they *choose* and *desire* to do. Humans are no more robots with God ordaining everything than tthey are with God simply foreknowing everything. Philosophically, these are identical situations.

    So, unless you're dealing with a Hyper-Calvinist, God is not viewed by the Calvinist as forcing your hand on everthing you do. Suppose tomorrow it is ordained you will will a red shirt. God is not sitting there in the great control room in heaven pressing any levers to make sure you'll wear that red shirt. You will do so out of your free, uncoerced desire.

    The only exception of this in the wierd Calvinist worrld I live in -- is when God graciously awakens His choosen one to life. And any who are so awaken will sure not object ot that for themselves. That is when they will see their sin, their need for Christ, and cling to Christ for their salvation.

    ...and anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Whosoever believes will be saved.

    For those outside of Christ as this moment -- what does a Calvinist say according to what they understand? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and your will be saved. Come now, this is the time for salvation. When you come, you'll find Jesus there for you.

    By Blogger Earl, at 1/17/2006 3:38 PM  

  • I think you are largely htinking on the right lines, Rose~.

    I do agree with Antonio (I seem to do that) about sovereignty. I do find it irritating, the way Calvinists have this tendency to claim a monopoly on the doctrine of Providence. Some of them seem to view any doctrine that is less than total foreordinationa s a complete denial of Providence.

    One almost gets the impression that Calvinists believe that God's sovereignty would be thwarted by one rude noise that had not been ordained before the foundation of the world.

    I am sorry to resort to parody, but I do get that impression from some Calvinists.

    Every Blessing in Christ


    By Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist, at 1/17/2006 4:16 PM  

  • Hi Antonio,
    Thanks for your extensive thoughts on this subject. I will consider what you have said and re-read your comment. You are being very nice. I need nice-ness. :~)

    Thank you so much for this:
    If you seek only answers, you will hear many voices. If you seek Him, you will know the truth.
    I really need to ponder that. Have I been really seeking the Lord? I'm trying to know more about His ways, but I shouldn't let "finding answers" to narrow questions crowd out an open search for Him. That is good. I will think about that much in the future I think. In fact, I may just print it out and paste it on my computer monitor, honestly. Wise.

    Daniel agrees,
    albeit with an incredulous look on his face. I am surprised he didn't have more to add, though. Well, maybe he just has some indigestion or something.

    Hello Earl!
    It is good to see you around these parts. I like your "jealousy for the gospel" (I remember you said that on my post about "worldliness" way back when).
    I wish I was confident that the interview process at our church asked the same questions that you do of your potential members. (shhhh ... don't tell anyone I said that).

    Thanks for stopping by.
    one rude noise??? I want you to know that I literally laughed out loud when I read your comment! Thanks!

    By Blogger Rose~, at 1/17/2006 4:58 PM  

  • Sounds like you need a fellowship break. Bless you Sister. ;-)

    By Blogger Kc, at 1/17/2006 6:55 PM  

  • Hi Rose and may the force be with you! :-)

    No, the reason I used the word force was...well...it worked. you are thinking about my Star Wars referance. It is now etched in your mind.

    What did ol Obi Wan tell Luke?

    "Luke, trust your feelings!"

    This is the hub of Star Wars theology as George Lucas has taken all religions and used what peaked his interest into his Yarn of Fantasy. Including much of the Bible.

    In real life and with God, he has ordained the exact opposite to be true and is in fact closely testing us(Duet 13) and so the only guide we have here on earth is the Scriptures as well as His Holy Spirit. Spirit and Truth.

    We must throw away all feelings and submit to what is written as this is what Jesus used to combat Satan in the desert.

    If we call on the Holy Spirit in earnest and in submission, he alone will guide us.

    All of our friends can be helpful here to us in their comments, but unless we take that same anxiety and seek the Lord as we do on these blogs, intently looking into the Scriptures, then he will indeed guide us and it will not be by our feelings, but only according to Spirit and Truth.

    Let go of Zane or John or DR so and so and lean on him with the same dependency.

    Still learning to lean myself.


    By Blogger Bhedr, at 1/17/2006 8:52 PM  

  • Hi Rose,

    Here’s some of my thoughts:

    Tulip question: Yes, Jesus loves everyone and died for their sins (John 3:16). Feel free to quote Him on that.

    Repentance/good works salvation connection. This only appears to be a conflict because Christians don’t view the whole situation as descending from Christ.

    For example, while still unsaved, I one day decided to stop sinning (I was trying to strike a bargain with God at the time, and that was my bargaining chip). Like most sinners, I’d never even thought of saying ‘No’ when temptation asserted itself. I always gave in gladly. But when I tried to resist it just this once, I discovered something very alarming:

    By sheer will power I held out for a day or two, but no one can just say “No!” to sin in their own strength for very long. When I tried it I realized, for the first time, just how very powerful it’s hold on my life had become. It’s just that I’d never tested it’s limits before. It is very demoralizing and even alarming to realize that you are, after all, fully enslaved to sin and you are not your own person in that regard!

    Only Jesus was able to deal with sin, and He did so through the cross. We should come to Him with belief in the gospel and repentance of our sins, but the actual work of overcoming sin belongs to Him.

    As an example of this – I’ve heard similar stories several times – of smokers who came to the Lord. They made absolutely no conscious effort to quit smoking; it never even occurre dot them. But somehow, a week later, they suddenly realized that they hadn’t had a cigarette in all of this time, and in fact their desire for it was gone.

    So overcoming sin is not something we bring to the table, it’s something He brings. But repentance and trust, with an expectation of change, are proper attitudes. I’ll try to come back with some more thoughts later.

    By Blogger Cleopas, at 1/17/2006 10:02 PM  

  • Hello Rose,
    I think if we all went by "what we can know for sure" from the bible, then we would be attaining more closely to "the unity of the one mind of Christ". It's terribly easy to speculate further about the real meanings of God's word that are not real clear, and in my opinion, harmless if done in the right way, but is also sternly warned against. And some very sensible arguements are made against speculating (I use the word "speculations" from the NASB) as well, by the apostles that should be easily understood. We want to know it "all" though, as the presently fleshly children of God, and it can be very divisive. The average person covets that power of all-knowledge. With very bright men history, it has been shown that their modest power can go wildly wrong. But at least we've stopped slaughtering each other over it for the time being.

    My point is that there is much more that we wish we could know than we have been permitted to know given the information revealed to us by God, by His design I believe, and we have to contain ourselves wisely in the zealous pursuit to know more of it. Yet, instead, we tend to fret about it and warn each other Christians about our own imaginings and speculations. That is a wasteful fleshly undertaking which has gained almost truthlike acceptance, to me testifying also to the abundance of mutually unaccepting denominations.

    There is nothing more enlightening and productive than active dialogue and even lively debate towards growth and understanding of God's word. But then draw back and conclude in what we can know for sure and letting each man struggle with the unknowable in his own way. This battle of theologies we are in in the Christian world, to me is a classic example of being "in Apollos" or "in Cephas" or "in Paul" or "in Calvin". We are told, and have seen, it causes problems. It caused big problems for the Anabaptists in Calvin's day as well as many others. That's a dramatic example, but how is a person sopposed to process all of that history. Calvin got some big ones wrong! Some of his conclusions are revolting to other Christians when put alongside other things we are told by God, for sure, about salvation, assurance, the sinful nature, etc. And his speculations have caused alot of unrest in the body of Christ. They have helped many but might their absence have helped many more? Now, I have but little other choice than to speculate myself.

    It seems to me that today there are "Calvinist's" who see the incompleteness of Calvin's ideas and are trying to pick up where he left off and attempt to complete his ideas. That is a worthwhile undertaking. It is just hard to watch the continued fall out amongst Christians from his radical views.

    So let us know what we can know, but demand that it pass the test of scripture. If it's not made clear then we are fools to suppose to finish God's work for Him. If it's not made clear by Him then don't give it undue importance that does not come from Him.

    There is only one Truth, one right answer. I think sometimes we "think that away" in an effort to over explain things that don't need over explaining.

    Divergent viewpoints can be healthy and they can be destructive even fatal.(I need to find some scripture to back that up, I think it's there somewhere)

    Just some points to ponder.

    ...Yearning for that peace in the Body of believers that is probably not reasonable to think will come on this earth until that great day.

    You comment was well said brother!

    Until that great day, Todd

    By Blogger Todd, at 1/18/2006 11:12 AM  

  • Rose and all,
    I understand your struggles. I too have had many.

    I can't give any Calvinist advice since I don't consider myself such.

    I can however take God's Word and give us a boost.

    1Co 13:8
    (ASV) Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away.

    Love never fails. The Lord knows those that are His. Whatever you do..if done for love of God and another...it can not fail.

    I have gotten angry, cried and laughed at much of what I have seen.

    I know whatever was truly done for love of God or another won't fail...however it might seem on the outside.

    By Blogger ambiance-five, at 1/18/2006 11:29 AM  

  • KC,
    "Fellowship break"? Do you mean I need a break from some of the fellowship I have been having :~)? ... or do you mean I need a break from blogging to get some more fellowship? Or ... do you mean I need to break Fellowship with someone? (see how analytical things can get?)

    Hi Bhedr,
    I was going to title my post "Seeing Both Sides" but then I decided to use the Star Wars reference as a HT to you. I know that it is not a good theology in the mobie, you didn't need to tell me that. :~)
    All of our friends can be helpful here to us in their comments, but unless we take that same anxiety and seek the Lord as we do on these blogs
    Yes, that is kind of what Ephraim said and I am pricked by it.
    Let go of Zane or John or DR so and so and lean on him with the same dependency.
    I don't have a hold of Zane or John and I haven't read Dr So and So in a long time. :~)
    Thanks for your comments, I took them well, even though it might not sound like it, I'm in a bit of a smarty pants mood right now.

    By Blogger Rose~, at 1/18/2006 1:16 PM  

  • Loren,
    So you are saying that the repentance is a gift from him, a natural (or supernatural) outworking of Him in the believer's life? I experienced that initially upon salvation with drinking. It was amazing, just like you describe it here. Some things, though, are a struggle. Things like attitudes and emotions. I know that I need to strive for godliness in these areas and turn from the flesh. Thanks for your wise words.

    What a great comment. You have no idea how much I appreciated reading that. I tell you, tears were on my face while I did. (I am having a bad time today). You are so right about what you have said. Wouldn't Christian Fellowship be so much more edifying if we didn't have to discuss all the things that are just not clear and plain? That which is clear and plain in the Scripture is bountiful and you are right, so right, that this should be our emphasis. Why don't you post something on your blog again? You are an encourager. I hope to see you around these parts again. Bless you.

    Aother great comment. Thank you. Love among brethren is what we need. Oh, for more love.

    I just re-read your comment again. You really make some good points and I am going to re-evaluate how I allow the word "Soveriegnty" to be defined by others.
    I'm curious, what do you think of what Ephraim said here:
    Focus can be good if it is not exercised to the exclusion of all else. Doctrines are teachers, not a life raft. The "either or" scenario only applies in limited cases.

    By Blogger Rose~, at 1/18/2006 1:26 PM  

  • Rose, thanks for stopping by my blog. I can see that you have some serious matters on your mind. Would that every believer were as interested in doctrine as you. I believe the Word of God is very clear on the matter that the atonement of Christ is available to anyone who is willing to receive it, II Peter 3:9.

    Theological debates have raged since the Garden of Eden and will continue to do so. Very seldom is one convicted of truth through debate. The truth is in the Word and the Holy Spirit will guide you. Blessings, Sister!

    By Blogger Gordon Cloud, at 1/18/2006 4:33 PM  

  • Rose I meant it seems you need a break from your reasoning and some time to enjoy the fellowship of believers, but I think you knew what I meant. ;-)

    By Blogger Kc, at 1/18/2006 8:39 PM  

  • kc,
    I remember Matthew's description of your comments as always "delightfully enigmatic". I thought maybe that was one of those. It could be, couldn't it? I thought I knew what you meant, but then ...

    By Blogger Rose~, at 1/19/2006 10:57 AM  

  • Rose, to tell you the truth, I am not quite sure what she means there.

    Focus is essential because without it, it becomes impossible to rightly divide the truth. Division is essential and necessary to get the truth from our study.

    I am not sure what she means by "either/or".

    Maybe it has to do with your spurgeon quote.

    If someone says to me that 1+1 = 3, and claims it is truth, and says that we must accept it as truth even though there is no "connecting link", I will think that is crazy as would everyone else.

    But the circumstances change when we get into the realm of theology. We are told that there are many "paradoxes" (read contradictions) in theology. We are told we must accept them and not to be so presumptious as to enquire how contradictory things can, nevertheless, both be true.

    I don't care what kingdom you are in, the only place that contradictory issues can both be true is "fantasyland".

    I do not often travel there...


    By Blogger Antonio, at 1/19/2006 9:10 PM  

  • Gordon,
    Thank you for stopping by! I look forward to reading some more of your posts.

    You mean "HE" (Ephraim).
    I guess he means to read the Bible with an open mind so as to be corrected, to be open to correction in your thinking if it comes from the Word.

    Isn't "Fantasyland" a theme park in SC?

    By Blogger Rose~, at 1/19/2006 9:38 PM  

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