Moroni 7:19-39 – “faith in Christ” as pistis, covenant/contract – LeGrand Baker

When I showed this to a friend he mused, “By reading faith as pistis/covenant, you have taken out all of the nice uncertainties and turned Mormon’s sermon into a Supreme Court case.” My response was, “We are talking about how to prepare for the final judgement, nice uncertainties just don’t cut it.” Please understand that what I have written is only my opinion. I am fully aware that these verses can be read very differently, but I believe it may be instructive to know they can also be read this way.

Moroni 7:19-27
19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?
21 And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.
22 For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.
23 And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come.
24 And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.
25 Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.
26 And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God. And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you.
27 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men?
28 For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens.
29 And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men.
30 For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.
31 And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him.
32 And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men.
33 And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.
34 And he hath said: Repent all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, and have faith in me, that ye may be saved.
35 And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased?
36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.
38 For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made.
39 But behold, my beloved brethren, I judge better things of you, for I judge that ye have faith in Christ because of your meekness; for if ye have not faith in him then ye are not fit to be numbered among the people of his church.

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In modern-day English, “faith” is a word of a thousand facets.

Its range of meanings goes in a continuum from trust based on a legally binding contract, to trusting in a friend; to wishing really hard but without any evidence to justify the wish. Faith in God can mean a prophet’s following revealed instructions; or people trying to convince God to do things the way they want them done. Prayer in faith can mean listening to the Spirit and praying for what one is instructed to pray for (listen and repeat); to worshiping a super hero “vending machine” where we pick out what we want and then pay our nickle by grunt wishing-hard to convince God to give it to us. That kind of faith lets us, not God, take on the role of the supreme instigator. I apologize if that sounds cynical, but sometimes that’s the way it is.

The fact is that within limits, faith in all forms can be effectual. So can prayer. When I was a student I would pray earnestly for help on tests. And after I had studied all I could, when the test was over I knew I had received the help I needed. But I think that falls more closely into the category of “trusting a friend,” rather than putting a nickle into a ‘vending machine.’

Sometimes a synonym for faith is belief. So then faith is about whatever one believes in. But since the variety of things one can believe in approaches the infinite, so does the meanings of faith. In other words, “faith” can have such a broad spectrum of meanings, that it virtually has no meaning at all.

However, that is not so in the scriptures. In the New Testament “faith” is translated from the Greek word pistis. The nearest modern English equivalent is covenant or contract. The Book of Mormon uses faith the same way. In the scriptures faith does not mean wishing hard, it means acting with integrity to accept and fulfill the terms of the covenant.

In his sermon, Mormon used faith to represent that same covenant relationship. {1} Here, I have equated “faith” in the New Testament with “faith” in the Book of Mormon, even though we can be quite sure that the Greek word pistis was not the word Mormon used. Indeed, we cannot know what Nephite word Mormon used, but we can observe that in his sermon, and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, the word translated as “faith” has the same covenant meaning as pistis in the New Testament. Sufficient evidence is found within the text of his sermon to know that Mormon was referring to sacred covenants when he used whatever Nephite word was equivalent to pistis and translated as “faith.” For that reason I am using the Greek pistis to stress the point, even though I know it is not technically correct.

Simply stated, there are five parts of faith/pistis just as there are five parts of any contract.

1. Define the object of the contract — I get house and you get the money.
2. Agree on the terms — How and when I pay you the money so I get house.
3. There must be binding “evidence” — A signature that validates the agreement and guarantees the fulfillment of the covenant. Between friends the evidence may be just a handshake or even a smile, but it has to be something that is real. In a gospel context, the ordinances are the evidences that we accept the covenants.
4. The next is what Paul and Mormon called “hope”(Hebrews 11:1) — Living as though the covenant were already fulfilled. That is, I get to live in the house and care for it as though it were mine as long as I keep up the payments .
5. Finally, the fulfillment of the terms when the house is paid for — You have all your money and I get the deed to the house.

Pistis always implies such a covenant and covenantal process—whether formal and explicit like an agreement with the bank, or informal and implicit like an agreement between friends.

“Faith in Christ” as Mormon uses it here has two intertwined meanings for us. They are accepting the terms of the Father’s covenant, and living according to those terms.

The Savior is the personification of his Father’s covenant. On his part, his Atonement authenticates its terms making our salvation possible. On our part, the ordinances and covenants we make in righteousness evince that we accept those terms. His Holy Spirit cleanses us and teaches us how to live in order to enable those terms to be operative in our lives. His name justifies our laying claim to blessings when we pray. And his resurrection and redemption brings us back to his and Heavenly Father’s presence. All of that ties us together and with them in a very beautiful hesed relationship of mutual love and eternal togetherness.

As I observed last time, Mormon’s sermon can be divided into three parts. Verse 19 is the transition between the second and third sections. It seems to be a remembrance of the event in the Nephite temple drama where a person (the king in ancient Israel) approached the veil while the congregation sang the 21st psalm. {2}

The great veil of Solomon’s temple represented the shechinah, the veil of light that separates man from God. {3} Since the Nephite temples were patterned after Solomon’s, that would also be true of the veil in Nephite temples. {4} Mormon says:

19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ [shechinah] that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold [grasp] upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ [Psalm 2].{5}

20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?
21 And now I come to that faith [the exercise of the covenants – pistis], of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.

What I understand Mormon is saying is that the only real way one “may lay hold upon every good thing” is by faith/pistis — that is, by fulfilling our part of the covenants.

Mormon introduces his discussion by showing how God has kept, and continues to keep his part of the covenants. God did that by teaching people about the Savior and the Atonement.

22 For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.
23 And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come.
24 And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.

Not only by God’s own testimony did he teach people about the covenants and the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, but he also employed angels to teach and testify.

25 Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ [implemented the terms of the covenants]; and thus by faith [pistis], they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.

26 And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name [In this and other places in the scriptures “name” means the same as “covenant” {6}]; and by faith [pistis – by virtue of the covenants], they become the sons of God.

We should remember that this is the whole point of Mormon’s sermon. He is teaching his “beloved brethren” the path they must take to get from where they are now to becoming “the sons of God.” In order to bring them to that end, Mormon teaches about faith (the terms of the covenants), hope (living as though the covenants were already fulfilled), and charity (the ultimate affirmation and substantiation of the covenants). Throughout his sermon he is building up to a crescendo which will be the last verse in this chapter.

48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen (Moroni 7:48).

So far, Mormon has introduced his discussion of faith by showing that God and the prophets have taught people the covenants from the beginning. He now concludes that introduction with the assurance that God will answer the prayers of those who keep their part of the covenant.

26 And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God. And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you.

I understand the last part of that verse to be read this way:

26 … And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name [our using the Savior’s covenant name validates the prayer], which is good [prayer by revelation. The terms and object are given to us by the holy Ghost], in faith [according to the terms of the covenant] believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you. [When all of those things are in place, then the answer to the prayer is a forgone conclusion.]

There are also many kinds of meaningful prayers. Some, like a hymn, are expressions of joy and love. Others may be a request or even a pleading. I believe God hears every prayer and answers them according to his wisdom and according to sincerity and the need of the one who is asking. However, as I understand it, for a prayer to be binding on God, it must be an exercise in pistis. That is, the prayer must be a covenant, following all the forms of the covenant. It must be done in righteousness (zedek), in the name of the Savior. The terms of the prayer must be either accepted or dictated by the Holy Ghost. Otherwise there would be no covenant. Mormon will reiterate that in verse 33 where he says, “And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.”

In the first part of his discussion of faith Mormon has taught that the covenants are binding. Now his object is to show his brethren that not only has God the power to keep his part of the covenants, but that he has the power to help the righteous keep theirs as well.

27 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men?
28 For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens.

Mormon’s words, “and hath sat down on the right hand of God” is a reference to the Savior’s post-resurrection coronation as king of everything. It is easy for us to read lightly over that because we live in a republic and do not understand kingship the way people did in ancient times.

Mormon is describing the Father’s conferring upon the Savior all of the rights of his royal birthright. It is a one-sentence description of a coronation ceremony. Mormon places his observation in the context of the Savior’s increased power after his resurrection. Paul does the same, but from him we get a greater sense of the power, grandeur, and majesty of the event.

19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his [God’s] power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his [God’s] mighty power,
20 Which he [God] wrought in Christ, when he [God] raised him [Christ] from the dead, and set him [Christ] at his [God’s] own right hand in the heavenly places,
21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:
22 And hath put all things under his [Christ’s] feet, and gave him [Christ] to be the head over all things to the church,
23 Which is his [Christ’s] body, the fulness of him [Christ] that filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:19-23).

Unlike Paul, whose emphasis is on power of dominion, Mormon focuses on the Savior’s power to bless, “to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men.” In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph, the Savior stressed that same thing.

3 Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—
4 Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;
5 Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life (D&C 45:3-5).

Again, Mormon focuses our attention on the legal aspects of the Savior’s Atonement.

28 For he hath answered the ends of the law,

He may be talking about the Law of Moses, but probably not, because that law is only a simpler form of a much greater eternal law which Mormon calls “the covenant of the Father.” In D&C 132:1-14 it is called the “new and everlasting covenant.” A proper covenant is a legal contract and its terms must be met or the contract is void. The Savior’s Atonement answered the terms of the “covenant of the Father.” The legal implications of that covenant stretch to the ends of eternity in both directions. Alma gave his son one of the best explanations of that legality.

22 But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.
23 But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.
24 For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.
25 What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.
26 And thus God bringeth about his great and eternal purposes, which were prepared from the foundation of the world. And thus cometh about the salvation and the redemption of men, and also their destruction and misery.
27 Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds (Alma 42:22-27).

In another place Alma explained,

13 Therefore, it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice, and then shall there be, or it is expedient there should be, a stop to the shedding of blood; then shall the law of Moses be fulfilled; yea, it shall be all fulfilled, every jot and tittle, and none shall have passed away (Alma 34:13).

In Mormon’s sermon, he is speaking to his priesthood brethren who understand all of that, so he can simply say it without filling in the details.

28 … and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens.

The logical structure of that statement is beautiful:

and he claimeth [acknowledges as his own]
all those who have faith in him [who have made covenants with validating ordinances];
and they who have faith in him [who keep their covenants]
will cleave unto every good thing;
wherefore [for those reasons he is justified in being their advocate]
he advocateth the cause of the children of men;
and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens. [as King of Kings, “Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion,” ad infinitum.

Mormon’s sermon is structured like a long legal argument, with premises and conclusions built upon other premises and conclusions. His question in verse 17 was “ have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven.” His argument is that they have not because, having accomplished the Atonement, Christ’s power to save us is infinite. Now using that as his new premise, he answers his original question.

29 And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men.
30 For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.
31 And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, {7} which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him.
32 And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men.

That is probably the most definitive statement in the scriptures about the responsibility of angels, their purposes, and perhaps most relevant to us, about who the angels might visit.

The angel’s responsibilities are “to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father.” But the angels do not call everyone to repentance. That is not their job. They teach only those “of strong faith [pistis – those who keep the terms of the covenant] and a firm mind.” Angels do not appear to kooks who are a little bit crazy, or to people who do not have a legitimate right to see them. That is, at least in part, because the testimony of the people to whom they do appear must be rational and believable so that “the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts.”

In the scriptures, there are many examples of angels visiting strong-willed people. One of the most interesting is this explanation by the Prophet Joseph about a passage in the Book of Revelation.

11 Q. What are we to understand by sealing the one hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel—twelve thousand out of every tribe?
A. We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nat ions of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn (D&C 77:11).

It is in this context—the promise that people will be taught the covenants of the Father either by angels or by those to whom angels have given authority—that Mormon remembers this promise:

33 And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.
34 And he hath said: Repent all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, and have faith in me, that ye may be saved.

Now Mormon has laid down all the premises— one must repent, do the ordinances, and keep the covenants, then one may be saved. He once again makes his remarks personal by addressing “my beloved brethren,” before moving on to the final principles of hope and charity. He assures them that the Holy Ghost will help them in their determined quest to keep their covenants.

35 And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased?
36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.
38 For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made.
39 But behold, my beloved brethren, I judge better things of you, for I judge that ye have faith in Christ because of your meekness; for if ye have not faith in him then ye are not fit to be numbered among the people of his church.

By using “meekness” the way it is used in the psalms and in the Beatitudes, Mormon again calls their attention to the fact that the covenants are not just for and about life in this world. But they are eternal in their scope. Psalm 25 explicitly defines the meek as those who keep the covenants they made at the Council in Heaven, and promises that not just they, but also their children will inherit the celestial earth. {8}

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FOOTNOTES

{1} I have discussed pistis many times. You can find them by using the search engine on this website. However, the best is in chapter, “Meaning of ‘Faith’ – pistis,” in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, pages 1007-25 in the first edition; pages 697-710 in the paperback edition, which is the one on this website.

{2} For a discussion of Psalm 21 see the chapters, “The King at the Veil of Solomon’s Temple” and “The Veil Ceremony in Psalm 21” in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, pages 543-57 in the first edition; pages 390-400 in the paperback edition, which is the one on this website.

{3}See “ Moroni 7:16-21 – Standing in the Light of Christ – LeGrand Baker” in this website.

{4} 2 Nephi 5:16
16 And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine.

{5} For a discussion of the royal new name in Psalm 21 see the chapter, “Psalm 2, The Ancient Israelite Royal King-name” in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, pages 499-517 in the first edition; pages 360-73 in the paperback edition.

{6} There is always a new name given as evidence or validation of a new covenant. The Savior has many such names. That being so, the word “name” is often used as code for “covenant.” In those places “covenant” can be replaced by “name” without changing the meaning of the statement.

For a discussion of the royal new name in the king’s coronation ceremony see the chapters in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord,“called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord that he might be glorified” and “Psalm 2, The Ancient Israelite Royal King-name” pages 495-517 in the first edition; pages 358-73 in the paperback edition.

{7} Moroni 10:32-33

32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his [God’s] grace sufficient for you, that by his [God’s] grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

In Ephesians 1, Paul gives us a detailed description of a ceremony where he tells us a great deal about our relationship with our Heavenly Father and about the covenants we made with him. You can find my updated analysis of that chapter in the paperback edition of Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, 546-554, and also in the scriptures section of this website.

{8} D&C 88 paraphrases the Beatitudes verses 3 and 4 where he says the celestial world will be inherited by the poor and the meek.

17 And the redemption of the soul is through him that quickeneth all things, in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it.
18 Therefore, it must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory (D&C 88:17-18).

For a discussion of the meaning of “meek” see the chapters in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord,“Meaning of ‘Meek’ in Psalm 25: Keeping One’s Eternal Covenants” and “The Meek in Psalm 25” and “3 Nephi 12:5 – Meek” on pages 931-96 and 945-49 in the first edition; pages 378-390 and 659-61 in the paperback edition.

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