THE

SHORTER CATECHISM

EXPLAINED


QUESTION 40. What did God at first reveal to man, for the rule of his obedience?

ANSWER: The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience, was the moral law.


Q. 1. How are the laws of God distinguished?

A. Into natural and positive.

Q. 2. What is the law of God natural, or the law of nature?

A. It is that necessary unalterable rule of right and wrong, founded in the infinitely holy and just nature of God, to which men, as reasonable creatures, cannot but be indispensably bound, Rom. 2:14, 15.

Q. 3. What do you understand by positive laws?

A. Such institutions as depend only upon the sovereign will and pleasure of God, and which he might not have enjoined, and yet his nature remain the same; such as, the command about not eating the forbidden fruit, and all the ceremonial precepts under the old dispensation.

Q. 4. Where were the dictates of the law of nature originally inscribed?

A. A fair copy of them was originally written upon the heart or mind of man at his creation; because he was made after the image of God, Gen. 1:27.

Q. 5. Do these dictates become just and reasonable, because they are commanded; or, are they commanded, because they are just and reasonable in their own nature before?

A. They are commanded, because they are just and reasonable in their own nature, antecedently to any divine precept about them, being founded in the very holiness and wisdom of God, Psalm 111:7, 8.

Q. 6. Did the dictates of the law of nature undergo any change or alteration in the mind of man, after the fall?

A. The law of nature, being the natural instinct of the reasonable creature, implanted in the soul by God himself can never be totally erased or obliterated, as to its common and general principles, and immediate conclusions flowing from them; though, with reference to such native consequences as are more remote, it is grossly corrupted, and even altered and perverted, by the vicious and depraved nature of man, Rom. 1:21, 32.

Q. 7. What are the common and general principles of the law of nature, which are still engraved, in some measure, upon the minds of men, even where they have no written law?

A. They are such as these; that God is to be worshipped: parents to be honoured: none are to be injured: that we should not do to others, what we would not wish them to do to us; and the like.

Q. 8. How do you prove that these, and the like principles, are still ingrained in man's nature, even where there is no written law?

A. From Rom. 2:14 -- "The gentiles, which have not the law," namely, the written law, "do by nature the things contained in the law."

Q. 9. How does it appear from men's own consciences, that they have innate principles of right and wrong implanted in their natures?

A. From their consciences excusing or accusing them, as they commit actions manifestly agreeable or disagreeable to these innate or inbred principles, Rom. 2:15.

Q. 10. What are the horrid, though native, consequences, of denying innate principles of right and wrong?

A. The denial of this saps the foundation of all religion, natural and revealed; subverts all difference between moral good and evil; and, consequently, opens a wide door to gross and downright atheism.

Q. 11. Is there any difference between the law of nature and the moral law?

A. Although the same duties which are contained in the law of nature, are prescribed also in the moral law, yet there is this difference, that in the law of nature, there is nothing but what is moral; but in the moral law there is something also that is positive, namely, the means of worship, and circumscribing the particular day for the observance of the Sabbath.

Q. 12. What is the meaning of the word moral, when applied to the law?

A. Though the word literally has a respect to the manners of men, yet, when applied to the law, it signifies that which is perpetually binding, in opposition to that which is binding only for a time.

Q. 13. Was there any express revelation of the moral law made to Adam in his state of innocence?

A. He needed no express revelation of this, because it was interwoven with his very nature in his creation after the image of God, Eccl. 7:29 -- "God made man upright."

Q. 14. Why then is it said in the answer, that the moral law was the rule which God at first revealed to man?

A. Because it was so distinctly written in his heart, and impressed in his nature, that it was equal to an express revelation.

Q. 15. Is the moral law to be viewed only as the RULE of our obedience?

A. It must be viewed also as the REASON of it. We must not only do what is commanded, and avoid what is forbidden in the law; but we must also do good, for this very reason, that God requires it, and avoid evil, because he forbids it, Lev. 18:4, 5 -- "I am the Lord your God, ye shall THEREFORE keep my statutes, and my judgements."

Q. 16. Are the precepts of the moral law of immutable obligation, so as that they in no case can be dispensed with?

A. With respect to God, those precepts which do not flow absolutely and immediately from his own nature, may, in certain particular cases, be altered or changed, provided it be done by his own express appointment; but with respect to man, all the precepts of the moral law are of immutable obligation, and none of them can in any instance be dispensed with by him, Matt. 5:18.

Q. 17. Did not God dispense with the law against manslaughter, when he commanded Abraham to offer his only son Isaac for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains in the land of Moriah, which he was to tell him of? Gen. 22:2.

A. Though Abraham, it would seem, looked upon this mysterious command of his sovereign Lord, to be peremptory, in as much as he immediately took journey with his son, to put the divine order into execution; yet in the issue it proved only to be probatory, to discover to Abraham himself the reality of his faith, and the submissiveness of his obedience to God, as flowing from it, ver. 12, 16, 17.

Q. 18. Would Abraham have been guilty of murder, had he been permitted to sacrifice his son, on this occasion?

A. No; because he had the warrant of the most unquestionable authority, even the authority of the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, for so doing, ver. 2.

Q. 19. Is the moral law a perfect rule of life and manners?

A. It is so perfect that nothing can be superadded to it, or corrected in it, Psalm 19:7 -- "The law of the Lord is perfect."

Q. 20. Did Christ supply any defects of the law, or correct any mistakes in it?

A. No; he acted the part of an interpreter and defender of the law, but not of a new lawgiver; as is evident from his explaining the law, and vindicating it (Matt. chapters 5, 6 and 7) from the corrupt glosses that were put upon it.

Q. 21. Did not Christ say, John 13:34, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another?"

A. This commandment was not new as to the substance of it, for it is the sum of the second table of the law, Matt. 22:39; and therefore called an "old commandment, which we had from the beginning," 1 John 2:7, 2 John ver. 5; but it is called new, because it was enforced with the new motive and example of Christ's unparalleled love to us, imported in the words immediately following: "As I have loved you, that ye also love one another."

Q. 22. Is the moral law abrogated under the New Testament?

A. By no means; for Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it, Matt. 5:17.

Q. 23. Can righteousness and life be attained by the moral law, since the fall?

A. No; for, "by the works of the law, shall no flesh be justified," Gal. 2:16.

Q. 24. Of what use, then, is the law to men, since righteousness and life cannot be attained by it?

A. It is, notwithstanding, of much use, both to unregenerate sinners and to saints; "for the law is good, if a man use it lawfully," 1 Tim. 1:8; that is, in a suitableness to the state in which he is, either as a believer or unbeliever.

Q. 25. Of what use is the law, to unbelievers, or to unregenerate sinners?

A. It is useful to discover to them their utter impotence and inability to attain justification and salvation by the works of it; and thus it is a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ, that they may be justified by faith, Gal. 3:24.[51]

Q. 26. How is the law a schoolmaster to bring sinners to Christ?

A. By requiring spotless holiness of nature; perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience in this life; and full satisfaction for sin: which none of mankind being capable of, they are thus shut up to see the need they stand in of Christ, who has done all these things for them; "for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, to every one that believeth," Rom. 10:4.

Q. 27. Has the law this effect upon all the unregenerate?

A. No; the most part of them remain deaf to the dictates of the law, both as to their sin and danger, and are therefore rendered inexcusable, Rom. 1:20.

Q. 28. Of what use is the law to the regenerate, or to believers?

A. It is of use to excite them to express their gratitude and thankfulness to Christ for his fulfilling it as a covenant, Rom. 8:3, 4; by their studying conformity to it, both in their hearts and lives, as the RULE of their obedience, Rom. 7:22, and 12:2.[52]

Q. 29. How can the moral law be the rule of obedience to believers, when it is said of them, Rom. 6:14, that they are not under the law?

A. Though they are not under the law as a covenant of works, to be either justified or condemned by it, yet they are under it as a rule of duty, and account it their happiness and privilege to be so, 1 Cor. 9:21.

Q. 30. What may we learn from the nature of the moral law in general?

A. That God having so clearly pointed out his own nature, and in a manner expressed his very image in it, Lev. 9:2, we ought to loathe and abhor ourselves for our want of conformity to it, and our innumerable transgressions of it, Psalm 40:12; and fly to the Lord Jesus, that by his righteousness imputed, the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in us, Rom. 8:3, 4.

Q. 31. What other laws did God give to the Jews, besides the moral law?

A. He gave them also the CEREMONIAL and JUDICIAL laws.

Q. 32. What was the CEREMONIAL law?

A. It was a system of positive precepts, respecting the external worship of God in the Old Testament church; chiefly designed to typify Christ, as then to come, and to lead them to the knowledge of the way of salvation through him, Heb. 10:1.

Q. 33. What were the principal ceremonies about which this law was conversant?

A. They were such as respected sacred persons, places, and things.

Q. 34. Who was the chief sacred person among the Jews?

A. The high priest, who was ordained for men in things pertaining to God, Heb. 5:1.

Q. 35. In what respect was he a type of Christ?

A. His being consecrated with a plentiful effusion of the holy anointing oil typified the immeasurable communication of the Spirit to Christ, Psalm 133:2; John 3:34; and his bearing the names of the children of Israel upon his shoulder, and in the breast-plate, signified that Christ is the representative of all his spiritual seed, and has their concerns continually at heart, Isa. 49:3, 16.

Q. 36. Were not the other ordinary priests of Aaron's family likewise types of Christ?

A. Yes; for in as much as they daily offered sacrifices according to the law, Heb. 10:11, they were typical of him, who "now once in the end of the world, hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself," chap. 9:26.

Q. 37. What were the sacred places under the old dispensation?

A. The tabernacle and temple.

Q. 38. What was the tabernacle?

A. It was a movable and portable tent, secured from the injuries of the weather, by several coverings; the whole planned by God himself, and executed by Moses in the wilderness, precisely according to the pattern showed him on the mount, Heb. 8:5.

Q. 39. How was it enclosed?

A. By a large or spacious court, open above, but hung round with curtains of fine twined linen, five cubits, or seven and a half feet high, Ex. 27:18.

Q. 40. When and where was the temple built?

A. It was built by Solomon, at Jerusalem, on Mount Moriah, four hundred and eighty years after the children of Israel came out of Egypt; and, consequently, about the same number of years after the tabernacle was set up in the wilderness, 1 Kings 6:1, compared with 2 Chron. 3:1.

Q. 41. Was the plan of the temple the contrivance of human skill?

A. No; like the tabernacle, it was devised by God himself; for David gave to Solomon, his son, the pattern of the whole of it, as he had it, by the Spirit, 1 Chron. 28:11, 12. And after enumerating several particular parts of the model, "All this," said David, "the Lord made me understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern," verse 19.

Q. 42. What did the tabernacle and temple typify?

A. Among other things, they both of them typified the human nature of Christ, which was assumed into union with his divine person, John 2:19, 21.

Q. 43. How many apartments were there, in these sacred places?

A. Besides the large outward court, to which any of all Israel had access, who were not ceremonially unclean, there were, both in the tabernacle and temple, two sacred apartments; the first, called the holy, and the second, the most holy place, separated by an embroidered veil of cunning work, Ex. 26:31-34.

Q. 44. What did these several apartments signify?

A. The outward court might signify the church visible, consisting in a mixture of saints and sinners; the holy place, the church invisible on earth, made up only of the true members of Christ's mystical body; and the holiest of all represented heaven itself, or the church triumphant in glory.

Q. 45. What were the sacred things, in the outward court, which was before the tabernacle?

A. They were these three; the laver, the sacrifices, and the altar on which they were offered.

Q. 46. What was the laver?

A. It was a brazen vessel for holding water, made of the mirrors, or polished pieces of brass, presented by the "women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation," Ex. 38:8.

Q. 47. Where was it situated?

A. "Between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar," Ex. 30:18.

Q. 48. Why was it placed there?

A. That Aaron and his sons might wash their hands and their feet thereat, when they went into the tabernacle, or when they came near to the altar to minister, under no less penalty than death, verse 19-21.

Q. 49. Why was this ordinance of the priest's washing at the laver, enjoined under so severe a penalty?

A. To point out the absolute necessity of the application of the blood and Spirit of Christ to the soul, as that without which there can be no escaping of eternal death, 1 John 1:7, compared with Rom. 6:23.

Q. 50. What was the subject matter of the sacrifices?

A. Such of the clean beasts and fowls, specified by God himself, as were perfectly free of any blemish or imperfection, Lev. 22:20.

Q. 51. What was signified by the sacrifices being without blemish?

A. The spotless holiness and purity of the human nature of Christ, which was sacrificed for us, 1 Pet. 1:19.

Q. 52. What were the instructive ceremonies that were used in expiatory sacrifices or burnt-offerings?

A. The sins of the offerers were to be typically laid upon the head of the sacrifice, Lev. 1:4; next, it was to be slain by blood-shedding, ver. 5; and then, it was to be consumed wholly, or in part, with fire upon the altar, ver. 9.

Q. 53. What was signified, by charging the sins of the offerers upon the head of the sacrifice?

A. That the sins of an elect world were laid on Christ, to be expiated by him, Isa. 53:6.

Q. 54. What was typified, by shedding the blood of the sacrifice unto death?

A. That the blood of Christ was to be "shed for many, for the remission of sins," Matt. 26:28.

Q. 55. What was signified, by consuming the sacrifice with fire upon the altar?

A. That the whole of that infinite wrath, which was due to sinners, and would have been consuming them for ever, was poured out upon the glorious Surety, and endured by him, Isa. 53:10.

Q. 56. Upon what altar were the sacrifices offered and consumed?

A. Upon the brazen altar, or altar of burnt-offerings, which was placed without, before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, Ex. 40:6; intimating, that the sacrifice of Christ, was to be perfected on this earth, John 19:30.

Q. 57. What was typified by this altar?

A. As the altar sanctifieth the gift, Matt. 23:19, so this altar typified the divine nature of Christ, as giving infinite worth and value to the sacrifice of the human nature, because of the personal union, Heb. 9:14.

Q. 58. From whence originally came the fire, which was kept burning on the altar of burnt-offering?

A. It came originally and immediately from God himself; for when Moses was dedicating the tabernacle in the wilderness, "there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed, upon the altar, the burnt-offering, and the fat," Lev. 9:24. And afterwards at the dedication of Solomon's temple, "when he had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt-offering and the sacrifices," 2 Chron. 7:1.

Q. 59. What was signified by this fire coming immediately from before the Lord, or from heaven?

A. It signified God's acceptance of, and acquiescence in, the obedience unto death of his own eternal Son, typified by all these expiatory sacrifices, Isa. 42:21.

Q. 60. Why was the fire never to go out, but to be kept ever burning upon the altar? Lev. 6:13.

A. To show that it was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sin, Heb. 10:4; and therefore to teach the people, under that dispensation, to look to the atoning blood of the Messiah, as that only which could quench the flame of divine wrath against sin, and be "an offering and sacrifice to God, for a sweet smelling savour," Eph. 5:2, in which he might eternally rest.

Q. 61. What were the sacred things in the holy place, called the first tabernacle? Heb. 9:2.

A. They were the candlestick, the table with the shew-bread, and the altar of incense.

Q. 62. What was typified by the CANDLESTICK?

A. That all true spiritual light is conveyed to the church only from Christ, John 1:9, 18; and that, as the branches were supplied with oil from the body of the candlestick, so all the members are supplied out of the fullness of Christ for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him, chap. 3:34.

Q. 63. What was meant by the SHEW-BREAD, which was always set forth upon the table? Ex. 25:30.

A. That in Christ, who is the bread of life, there is food continually for starving sinners of mankind, John 6:35; and that we may ever come to him for supply, because, "in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily," Col. 2:9.

Q. 64. What was typified by the altar of INCENSE, which was placed immediately before the veil? Ex. 30:6.

A. The incense which was continually burnt upon this altar, every morning and evening, Ex. 30:7, 8, (after the sacrifices were offered without, upon the altar of burnt-offering,) typified the prevalent intercession of Christ, founded upon his meritorious oblation, 1 John 2:1, 2.

Q. 65. What were the sacred and significant things contained in the most holy place, or holiest of all, as it is called? Heb. 9:3.

A. The apostle to the Hebrews says, that "the tabernacle which is called the holiest of all, -- HAD the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant, overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; and over it the cherubims of glory, shadowing the mercy-seat," Heb. 9:4, 5.

Q. 66. Did the golden censer, like other sacred utensils in the most holy place, remain in it perpetually?

A No; it remained no longer than the high priest continued within the veil, sprinkling the blood of the sin-offering "upon the mercy seat, and before it," Lev. 16:14, during which time the cloud of incense, kindled with coals of fire from the altar of burnt-offering covered the mercy-seat, ver. 12, 13; and then, when the high priest retired from the most holy place, he carried off the golden censer with him to the altar of incense, where it lay till there was next occasion for it.

Q. 67. Why then was the holiest of all said to HAVE the golden censer?

A. Because the principal use of it, was to carry in burning incense to the most holy place, along with the blood of the sacrifice on the great day of atonement, once every year, Lev. 16:12, 13.

Q. 68. What was typified by this cloud of incense carried in by the high priest to the most holy place, along with the blood of the sacrifice once a year?

A. The infallible prevalency of Christ's intercession, because of the infinite merit of his satisfaction, Heb. 7:25.

Q. 69. What was the most eminent pledge of the divine presence, in this most holy place?

A. The ark with the mercy-seat that covered it, Ex. 25:21, 22 -- "Thou shalt put the mercy-seat above upon the ark -- and there will I meet with thee, and I will commune with thee."

Q. 70. What was put within the ark?

A. Nothing but the two tables of stone, on which the Ten Commandments were written by the finger of God at Mount Sinai, 1 Kings 8:9 -- "There was nothing in the ark, save the TWO TABLES of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb."

Q. 71. Were not the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, put within the ark, as it would seem from Heb. 9:4?

A. No; it is expressly said, that both these were appointed to be laid up BEFORE the testimony, not IN IT, Ex. 16:34, and Num. 17:10.

Q. 72. What did the golden pot that had manna signify?

A. The inexhaustible provision of all spiritual blessings laid up in Christ, for the members of his mystical body, John 6:54, 55.

Q. 73. What was typified by Aaron's rod that budded?

A. The fixed choice that God had made of Christ, to the office of priesthood, he being called of God, as was Aaron, Heb. 5:4.

Q. 74. For what end was the ARK of the covenant properly made?

A. It was for holding the two tables of the law, which are called the testimony, Ex. 25:16, says God to Moses, "Thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee."

Q. 75. Why were the tables of the law called the two tables of testimony? Ex. 31:18.

A. Because they testified the will of God to mankind as the unerring rule of duty, Isa. 8:20.

Q. 76. Why were these tables put into the ark?

A. To signify that the law, which was broken by the first Adam, was put up, as fulfilled in the second, Isa. 42:21, that there might be "no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus," Rom. 8:1.

Q. 77. Why were these tables called the tables of the covenant, and the ark containing them, the ark of the covenant? Heb. 9:4.

A. Because the Ten Commandments, written on these tables, were the matter of the covenant of works made with Adam, as the head of his posterity, Rom. 10:5, and the fulfilment of them, both in point of doing and suffering was the condition of the covenant of grace, made with Christ, as the representative of his spiritual seed, Matt. 3:15.

Q. 78. What was the mercy-seat?

A. It was a plate of solid gold, exactly fitted to the breadth and length of the ark, (Ex. 25 ver. 10 and 17, compared,) so as to be a lid, or covering to the tables of the covenant, which were within it, ver. 21.

Q. 79. Why was it called the mercy-seat?

A. To intimate, that God is propitious and merciful to sinners, only through the meritorious satisfaction of Christ, Rom. 5:21.

Q. 80. What was Signified by its being a lid, or covering, to the tables of the covenant?

A. That the broken law was so hid or covered by the glorious Surety, who answered all its demands, Rom. 8:33, 35, that it could accuse none before God, who had "fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before them," Heb. 6:18.

Q. 81. What was it that peculiarly belonged to the mercy-seat?

A. The "cherubims of glory shadowing it," Heb. 9:5.

Q. 82. What was represented by these cherubims?

A. They represented the ministry and service of the holy angels to Christ and his church, Heb. 1:14.

Q. 83. Why called cherubims of glory?

A. Because God manifested his glory from between them, Ex. 25:22, and gave gracious answers with respect to his church and people, Num. 7:89.

Q. 84. How did they shadow the mercy-seat?

A. By stretching forth and spreading their wings over it, intimating their readiness to fly upon Christ's errands on all occasions, Psalm 104:4.

Q. 85. In what posture were the faces of these cherubims?

A. They looked one to another, and towards the mercy-seat, Ex. 25:20.

Q. 86. What did this posture of their faces signify?

A. Their looking one to another, signified their perfect harmony in serving the interests of Christ's kingdom, Ezek. 1:20; and their looking towards the mercy-seat, signified their desire to look, with the most profound veneration and wonder, into the adorable mystery of redeeming love, 1 Pet. 1:12 -- "Which things the angels desire to look into."

Q. 87. Who was allowed to enter into this most holy place?

A. The high priest alone, without any to attend or assist him, Lev. 16:17; and in this he was an eminent type of Christ, who has the whole work of redemption laid upon his shoulders, "And of the people there was none with him," Isa. 63:3.

Q. 88. When did the high priest enter into the holiest of all?

A. Only once every year; namely, on the great day of atonement, which was appointed to be a solemn anniversary fast, under that ceremonial dispensation, Lev. 16:29, 30.

Q. 89. In what manner did the high priest enter within the veil?

A. He was expressly required to carry along with him the blood of the sacrifice, slain without the tabernacle, at the altar of burnt-offering, and the golden censer full of burning incense; without both which, he might by no means enter within the most holy place, Lev. 16:12-16.

Q. 90. What was typified by this solemnity?

A. It typified the perpetual efficacy of the blood of Christ in heaven, for all the blessings and benefits for which it was shed on earth, Heb. 12:24.

Q. 91. Is the ceremonial law, or any part of it, obligatory now, under the New Testament?

A. Although the divine truths, couched and signified under the ceremonies of God's own institution, be unchangeably the same, yet the observance of the ceremonies themselves is abrogated by the death and satisfaction of Christ, in whom they had their full accomplishment, John 1:17.

Q. 92. How do you prove that the ceremonial law was abolished by the death and satisfaction of Christ?

A. From the utter destruction, many ages since, of the temple at Jerusalem, where only it was lawful to offer sacrifices; which adorable Providence would never have permitted, if these ceremonial institutions had been intended to subsist after the death of Christ, of whom it was foretold that he should "cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease," Dan. 9:27. See also Jer. 3:16 -- "In those days, saith the Lord, they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord; neither shall it come to mind, neither shall they remember it, neither shall they visit it, neither shall that be done any more."

Q. 93. What may we learn from the whole of this typical dispensation?

A. That as the ceremonial law was a shadow of good things to come, Heb. 10:1, so it is a perpetual evidence of the faithfulness and power of God, in the full accomplishment of all the blessings that were prefigured by it, John 1:17.

Q. 94. What was the JUDICIAL law?

A. It was that body of laws given by God, for the government of the Jews, partly founded in the law of nature, and partly respecting them, as they were a nation distinct from all others.

Q. 95. What were those laws which respected them as a people distinct from all others?

A. They were such as concerned the redemption of their mortgaged estates, Lev. 25:13; the resting of their land every seventh year, Ex. 23:11; the appointment of cities of refuge for the man-slayer, Num. 35:15; the appearing of their males before the Lord at Jerusalem, three times in the year, Deut. 16:16; and the like.

Q. 96. Is this law abrogated, or is it still of binding force?

A. So far as it respects the peculiar constitution of the Jewish nation, it is entirely abrogated; but in so far as it contains any statute, founded in the law of nature, common to all nations, it is still of binding force.


[51] Larger Catechism, Question 96.

[52] Ibid., Q. 97.


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