POSTED - 6/10/2001
The Plan of Salvation - Part IV (Universalism)
- Benjamin B. Warfield
THE EVANGELICAL note is formally sounded by the entirety of organized Protestantism. That is to say, all the great Protestant bodies, in their formal official confessions, agree in confessing the utter dependence of sinful man upon the grace of God alone for salvation, and in conceiving this dependence as immediate and direct upon the Holy Spirit, acting as a person and operating directly on the heart of the sinner. It is this evangelical note which determines the peculiarity of the piety of the Protestant Churches. The characteristic feature of this piety is a profound consciousness of intimate personal communion with God the Saviour, on whom the soul rests with immediate love and trust. Obviously this piety is individualistic to the core, and depends for its support on an intense conviction that God the Lord deals with each sinful soul directly and for itself. Nevertheless, in odd contradiction to this individualistic sentiment which informs all truly evangelical piety, there exists in Protestantism a widespread tendency to construe the activities of God looking to salvation not individualistically but universally, to assert, in one word, that all that God does looking toward the salvation of sinful man, he does not to or for individual men but to or for all men alike, making no distinctions. This is the characteristic contention of what we know as Evangelical Arminianism and of Evangelical Lutheranism and is the earnest conviction of large bodies of Protestants gathered in many communions, under many names.
On the face of it, it would seem that if it is God the Lord and he alone who works salvation, by an operation of his grace immediately upon the heart, (which is the core of the evangelical confession); and if all that God does looking to the salvation of men he does to and for all men alike, (which is the substance of the universalistic contention); why, then, all men without exception must be saved. This conclusion, it would seem, can be escaped only by relaxing in one way or another the stringency of one or the other of the assumed premises. It must either be held that it is not God and God alone who works salvation, but that the actual enjoyment of salvation hangs at a decisive point upon something in man, or something done by man (and then we have fallen out of our evangelicalism into the mere naturalism of autosoterism); or it must be held that God's gracious activities looking to salvation are not after all absolutely universal in their operation (and then we have fallen away from our asserted universalism); or else it would seem inevitable that we should allow that all men are saved. Consistent evangelicalism and consistent universalism can coexist only if we are prepared to assert the salvation by God's almighty grace of all men without exception.
Accordingly, there has always existed a tendency in those evangelical circles which draw back more or less decisively from ascribing a thoroughgoing particularism to God in the distribution of his grace, to assume the actual salvation of all men, provided, that is, that their sense of the complete dependence of the sinner upon God for salvation is strong and operative. Among the condemnations of errors included in the Summa Confessionis et Conclusionum of the Synod held at Debreezen on February 24, 1567, we find a clause directed against what are there called the "Holopraedestinani," which runs as follows: "The Holy Scripture refutes by these reasons also the Holopraedestinani, that is, those who imagine that the whole world is elected and that a universal predestination follows from the universal promise; and teaches that predestination is of a few, and is particular, and that the number of the elect is certain, and their catalogue extends to their very hairs. For the very hairs of your head are all numbered.' . . . But it does not at all follow from this doctrine that God is partial or a respecter of persons." Who these sixteenth century Holopraedestinani were we have not been careful to inquire; but certainly, from that time to this, there have never lacked those who in the interest of protecting God from the charge of "partiality or respect of persons" have been inclined to hold that he has chosen all men to salvation and through his almighty grace brings them all to that blessed goal.
The most recent and perhaps the most instructive instances of this tendency are provided by two divines of the Church of Scotland of our own day, Dr. William Hastie, late Professor of Divinity in the University of Glasgow and Dr. William P. Paterson, now holding the Chair of Divinity, the Chair of Chalmers and Flint, in the University of Edinburgh. In his admirable Croall lectures on "The Theology of the Reformed Churches in its Fundamental Principles," Dr. Hastie announces that "the word of the eternal hope seems to me the latest message of the Reformed Theology;" and Dr. Paterson takes up the hint and enlarges on it in the excellent chapter on "The Testimony of the Reformed Churches" included in his Baird Lecture on "The Rule of Faith. "Dr. Paterson considers that Calvinism contains in itself elements "which are mutually repulsive," in its "doctrine of everlasting punishment" on the one hand, and its "doctrine of election and irresistible grace" on the other. Relief might no doubt be had, "when thought rebels against making God responsible" for the everlasting punishment of some "by a doctrine of reprobation," by taking refuge in "an Arminian or semi-Arminian type of thought." This relief would be purchased, however, at the too dear cost of abandonment of concinnity of thought, and of falling away from faithfulness to the evangelical principle, which is the core of Christianity. There remains, then, according to Dr. Paterson, no other way but to discard the doctrine of everlasting punishment, and to "resolve reprobation into a temporary lack of privilege and of spiritual attainment." And he somewhat complacently remarks that "it is a curious circumstance that, while Calvinism has become unpopular chiefly because of its identification with a grim and remorseless doctrine of eternal punishment, it is the only system which contains principles-in its doctrines of election and irresistible grace-that could make credible a theory of universal restoration."
What Dr. Paterson says in these last words is true enough: but it is true only because, when rightly considered, Calvinism, with its doctrines of election and irresistible grace, is the only system which can make credible the salvation of any sinner: since in these doctrines alone are embodied in its purity the evangelical principles that salvation is from God alone and from him only in the immediate working of his grace. Whether this grace in God's unspeakable mercy is granted to some men only or is poured out on all men alike, is a different question to be determined on its own grounds. And this question is certainly not to be facilely resolved by the simple assumption that God's mercy must be poured out on all alike, since otherwise not all men can be saved. The fundamental presupposition of such an assumption is no other than that God owes all men salvation, that is to say, that sin is not really sin and is to be envisaged rather as misfortune than as ill-desert.
That it is this low view of sin which is really determinative of the whole direction of Dr. Paterson's thought at this point becomes immediately apparent upon attending to the terms of his argument. "It has been customary to say," he reasons, "that as there would have been no injustice in the punishment of all guilty beings, there can be none in the punishment of some guilty beings out of the number. Those who are saved are saved because of the mercy of God, while those who are lost perish because of their sins. This is as true as to say that those sick persons who are saved by the skill and devotion of a physician owe their lives to him, and that those that die perish of their diseases; but in that case the physician does not escape censure if it can be shown that it was in his power to have treated and saved those who died. It is therefore impossible to say that the doctrine of the divine love is not affected, since on Calvinistic principle it is in the power of God to deal with all in the same way in which he has dealt with the rest. For ex hypothesi it is in the power of God, in virtue of the principle of irresistible grace, to save even the worst, and if nevertheless there is a part of the human race which is consigned to everlasting punishment, it seems to be only explicable on the assumption that the divine love is not perfect, because it is not an all-embracing and untiring love."
Is it, then. inconceivable that the divine hand might be held back from saving all by something other than lack of power? The whole matter of the ill-desert of sin and the justice of God responding in hot indignation to this ill-desert, is left out of Dr. Paterson's reasoning. If the case were really as he represents it and men in their mere misery, appealing solely to God's pity, lay before the divine mind, it would be inexplicable that he did not save all. The physician who, having the power to treat and cure all his patients, arbitrarily discriminates between them and contents himself with ministering to some of them only; would justly incur the reprobation of men. But may not the judge, having the mere power to release all his criminals, be held back by higher considerations from releasing them all? It may be inexplicable why a physician in the case supposed should not relieve all; while the wonder may be in the case of the judge rather how he can release any. The love of God is in its exercise necessarily under the control of his righteousness; and to plead that his love has suffered an eclipse because he does not do all that he has the bare power to do, is in effect to deny to him a moral nature. The real solution to the puzzle that is raised with respect to the distribution of the divine grace is, then, not to be sought along the lines either of the denial of the omnipotence of God's grace with the Arminians, or of the denial of the reality of his reprobation with our neo-universalists, but in the affirmation of his righteousness. The old answer is after all the only sufficient one: God in his love saves as many of the guilty race of man as he can get the consent of his whole nature to save. Being God and all that God is, he will not permit even his ineffable love to betray him into any action which is not right. And it is therefore that we praise him and trust him and love him. For he is not part God, a God here and there, with some but not all the attributes which belong to true God: he is God altogether, God through and through, all that God is and all that God ought to be.
Meanwhile, it is not the consistent universalism that demands the actual salvation of all sinners, which has been embraced by the mass of universalizing Protestants. For one thing, the Scriptures are too clear to the contrary to permit the indulgence of this pleasant dream: it is all too certain that all men are not saved, but at the last day there remain the two classes of the saved and the lost, each of which is sent to the eternal destiny which belongs to it. The great problem requires to be faced by universalizing evangelicalism, therefore, of how it is God and God alone who saves the soul, and all that God does looking towards the saving of the soul he does to and for all men alike, and yet all men are not saved. Their attempts to solve this problem have given us the doctrinal constructions known as Evangelical Lutheranism and Evangelical Arminianism, both of which profess to combine an express evangelicalism and an express universalism, and yet to provide for the diverse issues of salvation and damnation. That these systems have succeeded in solving this (let us say it frankly, insoluble) problem, we of course do not believe; and the element in the problem which suffers in the forcible adjustments which they propose, is in both cases the evangelical element. But it is nevertheless to be frankly recognized that both systems profess to have found a solution and are therefore emphatic in their professions of both a pure evangelicalism and a complete universalism in the operation of God looking to salvation. It will be worth our while to make this clear to ourselves. In doing so, however, we shall choose statements from which we may learn something more of the spirit and points of view of these great systems than the particular facts which are more immediately engaging our attention.
How deeply embedded the evangelical conviction is in the consciousness of evangelical Arminianism we may learn from an instructive enunciation of it by Dr. Joseph Agar Beet. This enunciation occurs in a context in which Dr. Beet is with some heat repelling the doctrine of unconditional election. "This terrible error," he says, "prevalent a century ago, is but an overstatement of the important Gospel truth that salvation is, from the earliest turning to God to final salvation, altogether a work of God in man, and a merciful accomplishment of a purpose of God before the foundation of the world." "In our rejection of this doctrine of unconditional election and predestination, we must remember that salvation, from the earliest good desires to final salvation, is the accomplishment of a divine purpose of mercy formed before the foundation of the world." In rejecting the doctrine of unconditional election, Dr. Beet is thus careful to preserve the evangelicalism which, he recognizes, lies at its center; and thus he gives us a definition of evangelicalism from the Wesleyan standpoint. It proves to be just that all the saving process is from God, and that all the power exerted in saving the soul is God's. It may please us in passing to ask whether this evangelicalism is really separable from the doctrine of unconditional election from which Dr. Beet wishes to separate it; and to note that he himself appears to recognize that in the minds of some at least the two must go together. But what it particularly behooves us to observe now is the emphasis with which, as a Wesleyan, Dr. Beet bears his testimony to the general evangelical postulate. Whether he gives validity to this postulate in all his thinking is of course a different matter.
From the Lutheran side the consciousness of the evangelical principle is equally prominent. Indeed the Evangelical Lutheran is very apt to look upon evangelicalism as his own peculiar possession, and to betray a certain measure of surprise when he finds it in the hands of others also. A. J. Haller, writing in Zahn and Burger's Magazine, expresses himself in the following emphatic language: "That salvation is not acquired by man by means of any activity of his own, but is given him by God's grace, that I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him of my own reason or power, but the Holy Spirit has called me, enlightened, sanctified and preserved me, this is assuredly the alpha and omega of all evangelical belief, and is not denied even by either Calvinists or Methodists." The purity of this evangelical confession must be frankly recognized, even though we cannot avoid cherishing misgivings whether it is permitted to condition all of the thought of its author, misgivings which are indeed immediately justified when we find him going on to speak of regeneration, and speaking of it after a fashion which is in spirit less evangelical than sacerdotal, and indeed is not untouched by the naturalism which usually accompanies this type of sacerdotalism. He is sure that regeneration is monergistic, but also that it is the effect of baptism as its producing cause; and he is very much concerned to defend this conception from the charge of magical working. "It might be called magical," he remarks, "if it were maintained that men were completely transformed in regeneration, with no subsequent demand made upon them for any ethical self-determination. That, however, an absolutely new power is created in them by God, the saving or condemning action of which depends on their subsequent or contemporary determination (Entscheidung), this has as little to do with magic as the belief that in the Lord's Supper Christ's body and blood are certainly and truly given for blessing to some, for judgement to others."
A passage like this reveals the difficulty a Lutheran who wishes to abide by his official confession has in giving effect to his evangelical profession. He may declare that all the power exerted in saving the soul is from God, but this is crossed by his sacerdotal consciousness that grace is conveyed by the means of grace, otherwise not. The grace of regeneration, for example, is conveyed ordinarily (some say only) by baptism. And this grace of regeneration is the monergistic operation of God. Even so, however, it cannot be said that the effect is all of God. For, in the first place, whether it takes effect at all, is dependent on the attitude of the recipient. He cannot cooperate with God in producing it; but he can fatally resist. And therefore Baier carefully defines: "God produces in the man who is baptized and who does not resist the divine grace, the work of regeneration or renovation through the Sacrament, in the very act itself (hoc actu ipso)." And then, in the second place, whether this gift of regeneration proves a blessing or a curse to the recipient depends on how he takes it and deals with it. "An absolutely new power is created in him by God," says Haller, "the action of which, whether for blessing or cursing, is dependent on the subject's subsequent, or even already presently operative decision." This carries with it, naturally, what is here covered up, that this self-determination of the recipient is his natural self-determination. For if it were itself given in the new power communicated in regeneration, then it were inconceivable that it could act otherwise than for blessing. Whether man is saved or not, depends therefore in no sense on the monergistic regeneration wrought by God in his baptism. It depends on how man receives this "new power communicated to him and how he uses it. And thus we are back on the plane of pure naturalism.
We may more than question therefore whether the cherished evangelicalism of the Wesleyan and Lutheran constructions is not more theoretical than practical; though meanwhile we must recognize that they at least postulate the evangelical principle in theory.
It is, however, the universalistic note which is the characteristic note of these constructions. As Professor Henry C. Sheldon of Boston University declares: "Our contention is for the universality of the opportunity of salvation, as against an exclusive and unconditioned choice of individuals to eternal life." There is to be noted in this declaration, (I) the conscious stress on universalism as the characteristic note of Wesleyanism, and (2) the consequent recognition that all that God does looking toward salvation is to afford an opportunity of salvation; so that what is actually contended is not that God does not save some only but that he really saves none,-he only opens a way of salvation to all and if any are saved they must save themselves. So inevitable is it that if we assert that all that God does looking to salvation he does to and for all alike and yet that not all are saved, we make all that he does fall short of actual salvation: no one must receive more than he who receives the least.
Perhaps, however, the essential universalistic note of the whole Arminian construction never received a stronger assertion than in the creed of the Evangelical Union body, the so-called Morrisonians, the very reason of the existence of which is to raise protest against the unconditionality of election. Its positive creed in itself sums up in what it calls the "three universalities": "the love of God the Father in the gift and sacrifice of Jesus to all men everywhere without distinction, exception or respect of persons; the love of God the Son, in the gift and sacrifice of himself as a true propitiation for the sins of the world; the love of God the Holy Spirit, in his personal and continuous work of applying to the souls of all men the provisions of divine grace. "Certainly if God is to be declared to love all men alike, the Son to have made propitiation for the sins of all men alike, and the Holy Spirit to have applied the benefits of that propitiation to all men alike, nothing is left but to assert that therefore all men alike are saved; or else to assert that all that God can do for sinful man cannot avail to save him and he must just be left to save himself. And where then is our evangelicalism, with its great affirmation that it is God the Lord and he alone with his almighty grace who saves the soul?
A lurid light is thrown upon the real origin of these vigorous assertions of the universalism of God's saving activities by some remarks of a sympathetic historian in accounting for the rise of the Morrisonian sect. "Of the movement now to engage our attention," he remarks, "nothing is truer than that it was the genuine offspring of its age. During the thirties of the last century the legislatures of our country were made to recognize the rights of man as they had never done before. In politics the long night of privilege was far spent, and the dawn of a new age was beginning to appear. Brotherhood, equality and fair play were clamoring loudly at every closed door, and refusing to be turned away. A corresponding claim, quite independent of politics, was being made in the name of Christian theology. Here also it has demanded that doors of privilege be thrown open. Freedom for all, food for all, education for all, and salvation for all were now coming to be the national watchwords." Words could scarce be chosen which could more sharply present the demand for "the three universalities" as the mere clamoring of the natural heart for the equal distribution of the goods of the other life as of this, as, in other words, but the religious aspect of the "leveling" demand which has filled our modem life. The cry, "Give us all an equal chance!" may have its relative justification when it is the expression of the need of men perishing under the heel of vested privilege. But what shall we say of it when it is but the turbulent self-assertion of a mob of criminals, assailing a court of justice, whence is dispensed not "chances" to escape just penalties, but wisely directed clemency, having in view all rights involved? Surely the evil desert of sin, the just government of God, and the unspeakable grace of salvation are all fatally out of mind when men reason as to the proper procedure of God in bringing sinners to salvation by the aid of analogies derived from the leveling politics of the day. Shall we not fix it once for all in our minds that salvation is the right of no man; that a "chance" to save himself is no "chance" of salvation for any; and that, if any of the sinful race of man is saved, it must be by a miracle of almighty grace, on which he has no claim, and, contemplating which as a fact, he can only be filled with wondering adoration of the marvels of the inexplicable love of God? To demand that all criminals shall be given a "chance" of escaping their penalties, and that all shall be given an "equal chance," is simply to mock at the very idea of justice, and no less, at the very idea of love.
The universalism of all the divine operations looking to salvation is as vigorously asserted in the Lutheran scheme as in the Arminian, but with, if possible, even less logical success-on the supposition, that is, that the evangelical principle of dependence on God alone for salvation is to be preserved. Indeed the leaven of sacerdotalism taken over by Lutheranism from the old church, in its doctrine of the means of grace, from the first fatally marred even the purity of its universalism, transmuting it into a mere indiscrimination, which is something very different; and has among the modern Lutherans given rise to very portentious developments.
The old Lutheranism, alleging that the honor of God required that he should do all that he does looking to the salvation of man to and for all men alike, asserted that therefore Christ has died to take away the sin of the whole world, and, provision having been made in the means of grace for the effective application of his sacrifice to all men, these means of grace (with the mind especially on the proclamation of the gospel in which they culminate), have actually been conveyed to all men without exception. Of course it is not in point of fact true that the gospel has been actually proclaimed to all men without exception; and an effort was accordingly made to cover up the manifest falsity of the assertion by substituting for it the essentially different proposition that at three historical stages (namely, at the time of Adam, at the time of Noah, and at the time of the apostles), the gospel has been made known to all men then living, "and," it is added, "if it became universal in those three generations then it has also come indirectly to their successors." The futility of this expedient to conceal the circumstance that in point of fact the gospel has not actually been conveyed to every single man who has ever lived (and nothing less than this can satisfy the demands of the case), is too manifest to require pointing out; and we cannot be surprised that the contention itself has ceased to be made. "More recent orthodox theologians in our church," the historian (the Norwegian divine, Lars Nielsen Dahle) goes on to tell us, "say simply that the universality of the call is a necessary presupposition, a postulate which must be assumed on the ground of the testimony of Scripture regarding God's universal saving-will on the one hand, and of the Scripturally established truth on the other that this saving will cannot be realized for the individual unless God's call actually reaches him; but how this happens, we cannot say, for it is a fact that at the present day it has only reached comparatively few, or at most a minority of mankind." Thus Professor Johnson writes: "The universality of this call of grace we must, in opposition to every particularistic view of it, maintain as a postulate of the faith, even if we are unable to show how it actually does reach every individual." It is an unsolved mystery.
The Lutherans, therefore, in attempting both to tie saving grace to the means of grace and to give it an actually universal diffusion, have brought themselves into a difficulty at this point from which the Wesleyans, who make the universality of the sacrificial work of Christ and the consequent gift of sufficient grace independent of all earthly transactions so that men are all born in a state of redemption and grace, are free. The ultimate solution which has been found by modem Lutheranism, in which Dahle himself concurs, consists in the invention of a doctrine of the extension of human probation into the next world, the famous doctrine miscalled that of a "second probation," for it is not a doctrine of a second probation for any man but only the doctrine that every man that lives must have the gospel presented winningly to him, if not in this life then in the life to come. By the invention of this doctrine the Lutherans have provided themselves for the first time with a true universalism of grace. There is confessionally no direct Biblical support for the doctrine: it is simply a postulate of the universalism of God's will of salvation in connection with the confinement of grace to the means of grace. The Scriptures teach that no man can be saved without a knowledge of Jesus Christ in his saving work. This is transmuted into its opposite that no man can be lost without a knowledge of Christ in his saving work; and then in the interests of this proposition provision is made for every man to be brought face to face with the offer of the gospel under favorable circumstances, if not in this world, then in the next. No doubt some such invention was necessary if the Lutheran premises were to be sustained. But one would think that the necessity for such an invention in order to sustain these premises were a sufficient indication that these premises were best abandoned.
Having by this invention avoided the fact that the provision for salvation is in point of fact not universal, the Lutherans have by no means escaped from their difficulties. They are faced with the even greater difficulty, common to them and the Wesleyans, of accounting for the failure of God's grace, now safely conveyed to all men, to work the salvation of all men. And here there is no outlet but that of the Wesleyans, namely to bring in surreptitiously the discredited naturalism, and to attribute the difference in the effects of grace to men's differences in dealing with grace. The Lutherans have their own way, however, of introducing this naturalism. They are emphatic that man, being dead in sin, cannot cooperate with the grace of God, a difficulty got over by Arminianism by the postulation of a graciously restored ability for all men, earned for them by the sacrifice of Christ and applied to them automatically. But they suppose that, though dead in sin, man can resist, and successfully resist, almighty grace. Resistance is, however, itself an activity: and the successful resistance of an almighty recreative power, is a pretty considerable activity-for a dead man. It all comes back, therefore, to the Pelagian ground that, at the decisive point, the salvation of man is in his own power: men are saved, or men are not saved, according to natural differences in men. Thus the grace of God is fundamentally denied and salvation is committed, in the last analysis, to man himself.
The upshot of the whole matter is that the attempt to construe the gracious operations of God looking to salvation universally, inevitably leads by one path or another to the wreck of the evangelical principle, on the basis of which all Protestant Churches, (or rather, let us say, of the supernaturalistic principle, on the basis of which all Christian Churches,) professedly unite. Whether this universalism takes a sacerdotal form or a form which frees itself from all entanglement with earthly transactions, it ends always and everywhere by transferring the really decisive factor in salvation from God to man. This is not always clearly perceived or frankly admitted. Sometimes, however, it is. Professor W. F. Steele of the University of Denver, for example, clearly perceives and frankly admits it. To him there can be no talk of "almighty grace." Occupying a position which is practically (whatever we may say of it theoretically) indistinguishable from the bumptious naturalism of Mr. W. E. Henley, the first article of his creed is a hearty belief in the almightiness of man in his sphere of moral choices. "When one says," he tells us, "'I believe in God, the Father Almighty,' he means it with reserve for in the domain of man's moral choices under grace, man himself is almighty, according to God's self-limitation in making man in his image and after his likeness." God himself, he goes on to declare, has a creed which begins: "I believe in man, almighty in his choices." Obviously a man in this mood is incapable of religion, the very essence of which is the sense of absolute dependence on God, and is altogether inhibited from evangelicalism, which consists in humble resting on God and God alone for salvation. Instead of the real Gloria Soli Deo ringing in his heart, he proudly himself seizes the helm and proclaims himself, apart from God, the master of his own destiny. Moralism has completely extruded religion. Did not Luther have precisely the like of this in mind when he satirically describes the moralist of his day in these striking words: "Here we are always wanting to turn the tables and do good of ourselves to that poor man, our Lord God, from whom we are rather to receive it"?
The antipathy which is widely felt to the fundamental evangelical postulate which brings the soul into immediate contact with God and suspends all its health on the immediate operations of God, finds an odd illustration in Albrecht Ritschl's teaching that the direct object even of justification is not the individual but the Christian society; and that "it is passed on to the individual only as the result of his taking place in the Christian fellowship and sharing in its life. "This is, of course, only another, and very much poorer way of asserting the principle of the general universalistic construction: God does not in any stage of the saving process deal directly with individuals: he has always and everywhere the mass in view: and it is the part of the individual himself by his own act to lay hold of the salvation thus put at the general disposal. How different Luther with his: "it is not needful for thee to do this or that. Only give the Lord God the glory, take what he gives thee, and believe what he tells thee." The issue is indeed a fundamental one and it is closely drawn. Is it God the Lord that saves us, or is it we ourselves? And does God the Lord save us, or does he merely open the way to salvation, and leave it according to our choice, to walk in it or not? The parting of the ways is the old parting of the ways between Christianity and autosoterism. Certainly only he can claim to be evangelical who with full consciousness rests entirely and directly on God and on God alone for his salvation.
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