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Have you ever wondered how you might construe a Christ concentrated understanding of how the Christian receives the Holy Spirit; how the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ serves as the basis through whom Christians come to participate in the lively reality of the Holy Spirit? Often we abstract the Spirit’s work from the Son’s (and the Father’s) as if the Spirit is the divine agent who imbibes or woos faith into the forthcoming believer, and by this creative act of Divine plenitude the would be believer comes to the confession of faith in Christ. Indeed, the Spirit has his own unique and active work in regard to the salvific reality, but as Thomas Torrance points out it would be wrong to think this work abstract from the person and work of the Son in Jesus Christ, or indeed, abstract from the Triune life itself. But in a very specific way here we see Torrance’s bringing together of the Spirit and the Son as the place wherein salvation first inheres, in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; and as an echo of that reality, we as images of this image (Jesus Christ cf. Col. 1.15), as we are brought into union with the vicarious humanity of Christ, indeed by the Holy Spirit, come to participate in the humanity, Christ’s humanity for us, wherein the Holy Spirit is fully operative as the One who leads and casts out, as the One who directs our steps in the way they should go; to the right hand of the Father. Torrance writes:

Our receiving of the Spirit is objectively grounded in and derives from Christ who as the incarnate Son was anointed by the Spirit in his humanity and endowed with the Spirit without measure, not for his own sake (for he was eternally one in being with the Spirit in God) but for our sakes, and who then mediates the Spirit to us through himself. As one of us and one with us he sanctified himself in the Spirit that we might be sanctified in him and thus be sanctified in the truth. Our receiving of the Spirit, therefore, is not independent of or different from the vicarious receiving of the Spirit by Christ himself but is a sharing in it. Since he received the Spirit in the humanity he took from us, we on our part receive the Spirit through union with him and through him with the Father. This was the point Athanasius had in mind when he wrote: ‘Our being in the Father is not ours, but is the Spirit’s who is in us and dwells in us . . . It is the Spirit who is in God, and not we viewed in ourselves.’[1]

For one thing, just from an identity point of view for the Christian, this should let us know that our salvation is not our salvation, but instead is a reality extra nos (outside of us); a reality that we have no control over, but who is in control of us as we submit to his reality for us in Christ by the Spirit of Christ who is the Holy Spirit of the Triune life. This should let us know that we do not find what we need, as the ‘world’ and liberal theologies call us to, by recessing deeper and deeper into ourselves. The fact that our very ‘being’ is grounded somewhere alien to ourselves, and in Christ’s being as we are brought into union with his humanity by the creative and recreative work of the Holy Spirit in his humanity and now our humanity in union with his, ought to alert us to the reality that there was and is nothing good that dwells here (that is in our ‘old person’).

I can’t help but think of the reality of the cross in this context; in order for us to come to this Dogmatic point of reasoning requires something greater than an abstract or discursive moment in our intellectual lives. What is required for these categories to work is both the Incarnation&Atonement; more pointedly, what is required is a putting to death of our ‘old man’ and resurrecting of the ‘new man’ in Jesus Christ. This is where the ‘being’ of humanity brought to breath by the Holy Spirit comes to reality; as THE man, the mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ, is breathed into life by the Holy Spirit in concert with the Father and in the strength of his own life Divine, and in this reality we can come to speak in the terms that Torrance and Athanasius do.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury/T&T Clark Publishing, 2016), 148.

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We come into the Christian life, whenever we do, and start the walk. At first, at least in evangelical circles, we identify new converts, often times with such phrases as “they are on fire,” so on and so forth. But after time passes, trials and tribulations face us, and we
gain experience[s] in the church we might become jaded, or at the very least start to experience a sense of dullness towards all things spiritual. We begin to domesticate and normalize our faith to the point that we conflate our experiences with the object (and subject) of our faith, Jesus Christ. Once we take this step—usually subconsciously—a vacuum is created. This is where things become tenuous, and spiritually dangerous. We will attempt to fill this vacuum with all sorts of new experiences, experiences that are more akin to ‘sowing to the flesh’ rather than ‘to the Spirit.’ We start to engage in daily practices that ‘grieve’ and ‘quench’ the Holy Spirit in our lives, and this all out of the seeming mundanity of our spiritual lives; out of the idea that we have arrived as Christians, had all or most of the experiences one can have, and now are seeking fulfillment in life by other means. I remember, as someone who grew up in the church, having a conversation with friends (who had similar backgrounds) when we were just recently out of high school, we thought we were all ‘veterans’ of the faith; that we’d already seen it all. It wasn’t long after this that I started to slide in my walk with Christ, and what I have been describing thus far began to overtake me; leading to actions that did not magnify Christ, but instead magnified me.

In the ancient monastic church the ‘sin’ I’m referring to was called acedia. Cornelius van der Kooi offers a wonderful description of this as he is discussing participation in the Spirit of Christ in his development of a Spirit Christology; he writes:

. . .  We do not have the unique relationship with God that Christ enjoyed. We are God’s adopted children. Yet this status in itself is a great mystery: it is the triune God who dwells in us, who has poured out his Spirit in his church! At the same time, this indwelling is not a matter of peace but involves warfare. We are often stubborn and do not readily incline to the Spirit and his work. In fact, the Holy Spirit may be grieved and even snuffed out. The house may feel or even be empty. Before we know it, we may be overcome by what in the monastic tradition is called the demon of acedia. It is the feeling of emptiness, boredom, and discontentment, bordering on melancholy. It refers to those times when we live in our own little world, are asleep, are unguarded, and try to put our restlessness to death with nervous distractions. Here no therapy can help us but only healing. God’s Spirit must come in order to fill us and make us complete. Outside of that movement, we are lost.[1]

This sort of creep can even happen to us as we are seemingly and actively walking with Jesus; even in seasons when we think we are genuinely in step with the Spirit. It might not be as overt as the discussion I had with my friends years ago, it might be more subtle; we might be reading the Bible daily, reading theology texts, be involved in church ministries and activities, and yet acedia could still begin to grab a hold of our hearts and put us into a place of spiritual deadness; a spot where we are going through the motions. My sense is that acedia is alive and well in the Christian church, and is one that we need to recognize and repent of.

What this sin points up to me is that within the Christian life there is a vigilance that is required. It is reliance upon the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, that will provide the kind of vigilance we need to avoid this particular ‘demon.’ It is so subtle and ‘creepy’ that we might not know it is even happening to us until we have engaged in some sort of egregious sin that then makes our whole lifestyle all too apparent. This is why reliance upon the Holy Spirit in Christ is so important for the Christian life. He will ‘put us to death over and over again, that the life of Christ might also be made manifest through the mortal members of our bodies’ (II Cor. 4.10). I would suggest that this is what is required if we are to avoid acedia; we must, as the Apostle said of himself, ‘have the sentence of death written upon us that we won’t trust in ourselves, but in the One who is able to raise the dead’ (II Cor. 1.7-9). We can pray for this type of lifestyle, and God will and has provided that for us in Christ. But this type of lifestyle—the one that avoids acedia—is not comfortable. In fact this type of non-acedia lifestyle can cause great anguish, dark nights of the soul, bouts of depression and anxiety, physical tumults, and a host of other means through which the Holy Spirit in God’s providence in Christ, will produce his death in our lives that his life will also be present for the world to see, and for us to experience. If you dare, ask the Lord to arrest any sort of acedia in your life and see what he won’t do. His grace is sufficient (I say with fear and trembling).

 

[1] Cornelius van der Kooi, This Incredibly Benevolent Force: The Holy Spirit in Reformed Theology and Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 104-05.

The Holy Spirit is often overshadowed by discussions surrounding Jesus, and even the Father, but in a way this is by design and the “order” of God’s life internal to himself. There are many important aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work though that we shouldn’t overlook, particularly with reference to, of course, thought about the Holy Trinity and the interior life of God. Thomas F. Torrance has these insightful things to note; as usual Torrance focuses in on the role that the reality of the homoousion brings to bear on a doctrine of the Holy Spirit:

It is by reference to this epistemological centre in the incarnate Son or Word mad flesh – that is, to the homoousion of the Son and the hypostatic union of divine Nature and human nature in him – that we also clarify our knowledge of the Spirit. He is not knowable in his own distinctive Person or hypostasis in the same way, for he is not embodied, like the incarnate Son, in the concrete modalities and structured objectivities of our world of space-time, or, like him, therefore, brought within the range of our human knowing at our lowly creaturely level. The Holy Spirit is God of God but not man of man, so that our knowledge of the Holy Spirit rests directly on the ultimate objectivity of God as God, unmediated by the secondary objectivities of space and time, and it rests only indirectly on those objectivities through relation to the Son with whom he is of one being as he is with the Father. Through all of God’s self-revelation to us in the incarnate Son, the Holy Spirit is the creative Agent in mediating knowledge of God to us in himself and the creative Agent in our reception and understanding of that revelation, although he is not himself the Word (λόγος) of that revelation or the Form (εἶδος) which that revelation assumes in Jesus Christ as it comes from the Father and is appropriated by us. But because it is in the Spirit as the immediate presence and power of God’s revelation to us that we know God in this way, the Father through the Son and the Son from the Father,  we know the Spirit in himself as Lord God no less than the Father and the Son, who therefore with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified. It is through holding constantly in our though the inseparable unity between the economic activity of God in the Spirit and the economic activity of God in the Son that we may be prevented from reading back into God himself the material or creaturely images (e.g. latent in human father-son relations) that rise out of the reciprocity he has established with us through the incarnation of his Son in space and time as one with us and one of us. Through the oneness of the Son and the Spirit the imaging of God in Jesus the incarnate Son or the Word made flesh is signitive, not mimetic. Thus the creaturely images naturally latent in the forms of thought and speech employed by divine revelation to us are made to refer transparently or in a diaphanous way to God without being projected into his divine Nature.[1]

It takes at least a minute or two to try and comprehend what Torrance is getting at; particularly in the last few clauses of the paragraph. Essentially, I think Torrance is underscoring how there remains a type of ‘gulf’—a Creator/creature distinction—between us and the ineffable God. Such that the work of the Holy Spirit is, in part, to provide the accommodating context between God who is ultimate, and those of us who are not. His work is to create the union between God and humanity where this can happen in hypostatic union—so His overshadowing of Mary’s womb. It is this dynamic, back-and-forth in dialectic, wherein us humans, as we participate in and from the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, are able to actually make our way through the diaphanous humanity of Christ—like the torn veil of his broken and now resurrected body for us—into the very recess of God’s eternal, Holy, and Triune life. But it is, as Torrance develops, the work of the Holy Spirit to constantly mediate us into the mediating humanity of Christ; a humanity that finds its breath life in the antecedent and eternal life of the Divine Logos, the eternal ingenerate Son, Jesus Christ. It is as if the Holy Spirit, in a way, is the like the cleft of the rock that Moses was hidden in as he encountered the back side of God’s intensely burning shekinah presence; it’s just now that because of the Holy Spirit we are now ‘hidden’ (Col. 3) in the vicarious humanity of Christ, the eikon of God (Col 1.15) wherein an elevation has happened (Eph. 1.18-23). Through the mediatorial humanity of Christ, by the Spirit, we are able to look into the eyes of Godself by gazing into the face of Christ (II Cor. 4.5-6); we are now robed in his humanity, by the Spirit, which allows us to literally and ontologically sit at the right hand of the Holy Father, in the Son, and to participate and partake in the divine nature itself, by the grace of the Spirit, carrying out our priestly roles as coheirs with Christ, and sons and daughters of the King.

These are things and realities, in many ways, that we can only marvel in outright worship at. Realities that we can taste and see are good by participating in them; we can only talk about them to just an extent. But then again, that’s the point of all this; the Holy Spirit in and through the vicarious humanity of Christ, is in the constant mode of accommodating these deep and ineffable realities about God’s life into our lives in and through the creaturely modalities and creational structures we find ourselves currently enrobed by. The evangel is that because of who God is, Triune Love and Grace, he has bent down to us, and continuously does so by the work and person of the Holy Spirit, in and through the Sabbath rest of the Holy Son; our brother and Savior, Jesus Christ. amen.

 

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 101.

I have lots of people email (instead of comment) me about my various posts here at the blog. Recently I received an email from someone who wondered why I didn’t have a category (in my categories for the blog) designated as “obedience”? I haven’t emailed this person back yet, but I thought before I did that I would respond to this rather interesting observation here at the blog first (it seems fitting for me to do so).

adam-eve-garden-of-eden-1To start with, I do have a category entitled “ethics,” which deals with issues and instances of concrete instantiations of Christian obedience (or disobedience); and then I do deal with Christian obedience in many posts, but they aren’t under a specific category of “obedience,” but instead those can be found under the category of “salvation” (and then a lengthy process of weeding through this posts will ultimately yield results that show I have dealt with questions that are oriented around Christian obedience). But I would like to answer this question with more particularity, and clarity on why my blog does not emphasize this category (as important as it is!). My blog does not emphasize this category (in the way my interlocutor is wondering, I presume) because the way I think of our relation to God in Christ, has Christ in the way; and I mean in the way of you and me (logically, theo-logically). Historically, and classically, Evangelicals (given their hybrided dependence upon Reformed/Covenant theology) have emphasized relation with God through a mode of emphasizing law-keeping conditioned by forensic categories of thought (just read an Evangelical systematic theology if you don’t believe me). And insofar that I have eschewed this classical mode, I have abandoned emphasizing law-keeping (code for ‘obedience’, usually) as the emphasis by which I understood relationship with God, and how I conceive of Christian holiness (or obedience as its subsequent expression). To provide an example of where the Evangelical heritage comes from, theologically, in this regard; let me quote Kim Riddlebarger (a contemporary advocate of Covenant Theology, and member of the White Horse Inn radio broadcast, along with Michael Horton), as he sketches the original and lasting relationship and way that he (and the classically Reformed) think of how God and man (God/world) relate to each other through the Covenant of Works (or Creation):

[A]s redemptive history unfolded, the first Adam—the biological and federal representative of all humanity—failed to do as God commanded under the terms of the covenant of works. The Lord God said to Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). This covenant of works or, as some Reformed writers speak of it, the “covenant of creation” lies at the heart of redemptive history. Under its terms God demanded perfect obedience of Adam, who would either obey the terms of the covenant and receive God’s blessing—eternal life in a glorified Eden—or fail to keep the covenant and bring its sanctions down upon himself and all humanity. Adam’s willful act of rebellion did, in fact, bring the curse of death on the entire human race. This covenant of works is never subsequently abrogated in the Scriptures, a point empirically verified when ever death strikes. This covenant also undergirds the biblical teaching that for any of Adam’s fall children to be saved, someone must fulfill all the terms of the covenant without a single infraction in thought, word, or deed (Matt. 5:48; 1 Peter 1:16). [Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding The End Times, 47.]

Much could be said in critique of this conception of things (and I have already said much, just check my category “critiquing classical Calvinism”), but in order to not get side-tracked from the point of this post, let me stay particular to my intention. In predictable form (since Covenant theology has Creation preceding Covenant), Riddlebarger allows Creation to condition Covenant instead of seeing Covenant (God’s life of gracious love) conditioning Creation (one serious fall out of this theological ordering is that Jesus becomes conditioned by creation instead of conditioning creation himself as homoousion—I digress!). In other words, when Reformed thinkers like Riddlebarger, and his whole tradition, start theologizing and biblical exegeting they start where Riddlerbarger starts, with Law (or the Covenant of Works/Creation). And yet, as Ray Anderson has highlighted (along with others), what should be understood (first), is that God spoke and created (which is an act of grace as corollary with His overflowing life of Triune love). So what grounds any relation with God, first, is not Law-keeping, but the fact that God spoke (which is grace)! This might seem to be a subtle shift, but it is profound!

Following this shift of emphasis, what becomes primary is not my personal obedience (and Law-keeping), but God’s in Christ for us. As Thomas Torrance has written (as I just quoted this in a post below this one),

[…] Under the gracious impingement of Christ through the Spirit there is a glad spontaneity about the New Testament believer. He is not really concerned to ask questions about ethical practice. He acts before questions can be asked. He is caught up in the overwhelming love of Christ, and is concerned only about doing His will. There is no anxious concern about the past. It is Christ that died! There is no anxious striving toward an ideal. It is Christ that rose again! In Him all the Christian’s hopes are centred. His life is hid with Christ in God. In Him a new order of things has come into being, by which the old is set aside. Everything therefore is seen in Christ, in the light of the end, toward which the whole creation groaneth and travaileth waiting for redemption. The great act of salvation has already taken place in Christ, and has become an eternal indicative. [see full text here].

This does not mean that personal obedience is not important, but it frames it in a way that allows me to keep my eye on Christ instead of first looking at myself (and then reflexively looking at Christ: i.e. reflexive faith], as if I, myself, can somehow be abstracted out of the only true humanity which is Christ’s. So I “seek first His kingdom and righteousness, then all these other things will be added unto me” (and I only seek first, because He first loved (and sought) first that I might love Him, through Him by the Spirit). My relationship with God is not dependent upon my obedience, but Christ’s obedience for me (us); and so this ought to go along ways in illustrating why I don’t have a separate category (apart from Christology) for obedience in my sidebar. Thomas Torrance in his (posthumously published) book Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ really captures the import of this shift and way of framing things from God’s gracious Self directed life for us in contrast to the Legalistic emphasis that the classical Covenant of Works flows from:

(iii) The holiness of the church is its participation through the Spirit in Christ’s holiness

 This holiness is actualised in the church through the communion of the Holy Spirit. He only is the Spirit of holiness, he only the Spirit of truth; and therefore it is only through his presence and power in the church that it partakes of the holiness of Jesus Christ. Since the holiness of the church is its participation through the Spirit in Christ’s act of self-consecration for the church, then that is the only holiness, the only hallowing of the church there is. That is the holiness which was actualised in the church when it was baptised with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the union of the church with Christ was fulfilled from the side of the church as well as from the side of Christ.

The church is not holy because its members are holy or live virtuous lives, but because through his presence in the Holy Spirit Christ continues to hallow himself in the midst of the church, hallowing the church as his body and the body as his church. Thus the true holiness of the members is not different from this but a participation in it, a participation in the holiness of Christ the head of the church and in the holiness of the church as the body hallowed by Christ. Participation in this holiness however involves for the members of the church a life of holiness, just as it involves a life in Christ, of faith relying upon his faithfulness, of love that lives from the overflow his love, of truth that comes from the leading of the Spirit. Because the church is the body of Christ in which he dwells, the temple of the Holy Spirit in which God is present, its members live the very life of Christ through the Holy Spirit, partaking of and living out the holy life of God. Therefore personal holiness, and all the qualities of the divine life and love found in their lives, are the fruits of the Holy Spirit. [Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement, edited by Robert Walker, 386-87.]

There is a lot to comment on here as well, but I must limit myself. I will just say that it is this reversal of things (i.e. placing the Covenant of Grace [God’s life Pre-destined]) from Law to Grace that explains why I don’t have a category explicitly labeled “obedience”. It isn’t because I don’t think Christian obedience is important, it is because I think the gr0und of this emphasis is roundly rooted in Jesus Christ for us (and thus I have a category for Christology instead). It isn’t that I don’t think personal obedience or holiness are important, I do! Instead, it is because I am persuaded that focusing on Christ and God’s Triune life of gracious love, and participating in that from the Spirit’s unioning activity will produce obedience and the life of Christ through the members of our bodies as they are constantly given over to the death of Christ that His life might be made manifest through the mortal members of our body. We obey, only because Jesus obeyed for us first. We don’t obey to ensure that we are one of the elect that God purchased from the mass of “perdituous” humanity; we obey because God loved us first that we might love Him back through the mediating and priestly Spirit anointed humanity of Jesus Christ. It is only through this framing of things that I feel I can live out this exhortation from St. Paul:

 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. ~Galatians 5:1

Without the freedom of God for us in Christ I live under a burdenouss yoke that really ends up being hell; which, I am pretty sure this is what Jesus came to save us from (ourselves), and for Himself (and His shared life in the Monarchia or God-head). So obey, but only from Christ by the Spirit, not for Christ so you can find God’s approval.

The Holy Spirit is such a minimized character within the triadic unfolding of God, partly because this is His mission—to bear witness and magnify Jesus—and partly because if He has received any attention, often times it is in an abused way (i.e. pentecostalism). The Holy Spirit, historically, has been thought of as the linch-pen who subjectifies, for us, the objective work of Christ. He is the One who, eternally functions as the communal personage that completes the interpenetrating (i.e. perichoretic) stasis of Father and Son. He subjectively brings us into this communion, by uniting us with Christ through His humanity, and into His divinity. This is why Paul can say:

. . . But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. ~ I Corinthians 6:17

So much beyond the minimalist and abusive notions that accompany thinking about the Holy Spirit today, there is a richness about Him, that can only be fully appreciated within the context of Jesus’ incarnation, which He bears witness to, and the subsequent fullness of Joy He brings us into as our union with Christ becomes the occasion for knowing the Father. Once again Torrance has this insightful plus for our consideration:

Like Christ the Holy Spirit is one in being and of the same being as the Father, but unlike Christ the Holy Spirit is not one in being and of the same being as we are, for he incarnated the Son but does not incarnate himself, he utters the Word but does not utter himself. He directs us through himself to the one Word and Face of God in Jesus Christ in accordance with whom all our knowledge of God is formed in our minds, knowledge of the Spirit as well as of the Father and of the Son. This is the diaphanous self-effacing nature of the Holy Spirit who hides himself, as it were, behind the Father in the Son and behind the Son in the Father, but also the enlightening transparence of the Spirit who by throwing his eternal Light upon the Father through the Son and upon the Son in the Father, brings the radiance of God’s Glory to bear upon us. We do not know the Holy Spirit directly in his own personal Reality or Glory. We know him only in his unique spiritual mode of activity and transparent presence in virtue of which God’s self-revelation shines through to us in Christ, and we are made through the Spirit to see the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father. While the Holy Spirit thereby guards the transcendence of God who infinitely exceeds what finite minds can grasp, nevertheless through his personal presence to us he brings the ineffable Being and Reality of God out of his unapproachable Light to bear upon us, and brings us out of our distance and darkness to have communion with himself and through himself with the Father and the Son. Because through him the Word of God continues to sound forth and is heard and believed, because in his light we see light and by his creative operation we come to know the unknowable and eternal God, we know the Holy Spirit, although personally distinct from the Father and the Son, to be no less Lord God than the Father and the Son, both as he is toward us and as he is antecedently in the undivided oneness of God’s eternal being. (Thomas F. Torrance, “The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons,” 66-7)

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Hello my name is Bobby Grow, and I author this blog, The Evangelical Calvinist. Feel free to peruse the posts, and comment at your leisure. I look forward to the exchange we might have here, and hope you are provoked to love Jesus even more as a result. Pax Christi!

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A Little Thomas Torrance

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” -T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

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