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WHI-1127 | Exploring Covenant Theology

Posted by on in 2012 Show Archive
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What is covenant theology and why is it crucial for our overall understanding of Scripture? How does covenant theology relate to our understanding of law and gospel? What is the difference between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants? On this edition of White Horse Inn, Michael Horton will discuss these important issues with Mike Brown and Zach Keele, authors of a new book, Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored.

What is covenant theology and why is it crucial for our overall understanding of Scripture? How does covenant theology relate to our understanding of law and gospel? What is the difference between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants? On this edition of White Horse Inn, Michael Horton will discuss these important issues with Mike Brown and Zach Keele, authors of a new book, Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored.



Zac Hicks

[audio src="http://www.whitehorseinn.org/whiarchives/2012whi1127nov11.mp3" width="250"]
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Sacred Bond
Brown & Keele

Covenant & Salvation
Michael Horton


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  • Guest - Chris


    Where is the biblical back-up that babies should NOT be baptized?

    I just ask this because it is easy to assert, as Sproul will readily admit, that nowhere in the bible does it say that we should baptize babies. But consider the flipside also. Where does the bible restrict such a covenant practice? If the children are to be considered "holy" (1 Corinthians 7:14), since they belong to believing parents and apparently belong to the covenant itself, couldn't it also...just possibly... follow that they might also be baptized, since they are considered as such?

    We are talking about baptizing covenant-members...our children. Not unbelievers.

    My children, young as they are and with strong child-like faith...believe. And I have always considered them so, just as surely as they pray at the dinner table, ask me questions about our faith, look in disbelief at the world and its evil, and express their thankfulness at the great things God has provided for us.

    I think also about the man who hears Peter say to the vast crowd on the day of Pentecost, "Repent and be baptized EVERY ONE OF YOU in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive sthe gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."? Does that man who hears Peter, along with his wife, consider only their selves for baptism? Or do they include their entire family?

    I think Scripture strongly suggests that that man would include all of his household in his decision to baptize...considering them all as covenant-heirs. Although we don't know the answer concretely, I prefer to err on the side of paedo-baptism, where he would have even his infant children be considered as included in the covenant community; being baptized as a sign and seal of their inclusion, whereupon the thing signified (their actual unity in Christ's death and ressurrection) is believed on with the parents' (and communities') most sincere faith - a faith that strongly remains in the soul of the parent, since it is coupled with hope...hope that their faith in their children's regeneration will finally be realized on that definitive Last Day, being apparent to all who are on earth now by their children's final confession and sincere, living faith.

    Such is the faith we extend to all visible, adult covenant members. Why not extend this faith to our own children, also visibly a part of the covenant community? Lest we see them as unbelievers; missing all the while their less obvious, though self-evident, demonstrations of belief as children of the covenant-community. Should we count them as guilty-until-proven-innocent, while Scripture all the while gives us reason to count them as one of our own, both in blood and faith?


    Chris Jager
    Tillamook, OR

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  • Guest - Bruce

    Chris you state that your children are covenant members , not unbelievers . Does baptizing them make them believers ? If so, doesn't that then become a work of man. And if not , then are they not unbelievers? Are not all children born into sin! or are they believers until they reach a certain age and have to choose for them selves whether to continue to believe or not ? Doesn't that then put their salvation into their own hands?
    If included in this covenant you speak of, does that give them a special place in The Lord until they confess with their mouth? Why then do we pray for their salvation?

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  • Guest - Chris


    Yes, my children are definitely covenant members, and I believe with all of my heart that they do believe. I trust that what I see as belief is indeed true belief…and I take it seriously, trying to teach them however I can. My greatest joy is to see their faith flourish and grow, as they continue to grow up and become older and mature.

    I count them as believers, and trust with my whole heart that they are...but I cannot see into their hearts as God can. I cannot know the secrets of their hearts as God can. Only God knows those who are truly His and who will be raised to life on the last day (speaking in terms of the Doctrine of Perseverance).

    However, since I cannot know of their election with finality, I cling to God's promises that are for me and my children; my children who display their belief daily—in my eyes. I look at them as though they believe, not as if they cannot believe until they have examined everything. I take into account their growth as children, out of which they will mature into the complexity and sophistication of adulthood. Though they are born into sin, they have learned the way of faith from the knowledge that they have been raised with and that they have always known, or been around. Such is a benefit of a child born to a covenant-community. They are reared in faith, though they are not born regenerate. We don't know at what point they become so, but we trust that this does occur at some indefinite point. (Again, we cannot see into their hearts to witness this.)

    Such is the way with adults. When do they become regenerate? Is it when they profess faith to us? No, it is at that point when the Holy Spirit quickens them: opening their eyes to see the kingdom of God, their ears to hear His Word, and their hearts to believe it. After their belief, the natural consequence of their newfound faith is a verbal confession—because they, in fact, do believe. But we can’t quite know, or put a finger on when they actually “came to life” in regeneration.

    And that’s how it is with our kids. They are reared as new-covenant members with the notion that they have at some point come to this life, and have found rest in Christ along the way. So my paradigm on their belief is a bit different. I assume, in the spirit of confident faith, that their regeneration has already happened at some point. I do not presume that I cannot share in the joy of their salvation until I hear it out of their mouths; waiting until they finally confess to me. I suspect that this has happened quietly, as an act between them and the Lord, at some point along the way…along our sojourning path. As we travel, I see daily the evidences of their belief, looking for them all the more as we continue on, learning and growing together. Their “confession” to me is in these evidences, whether in word or deed…though they may not be aware that I take notice. Indeed, I don’t even have to ask them or call them into question. Not that I should have to… it really isn’t necessary because I already know the answer. They’ve already shown me the answer, only not in the form of a response to my questioning, but as a genuinely self-initiated proclamation, practice, or even a simple didn’t-think-anything-of-it prayer.

    There are many who confess with their mouths, but so many of these professed believers fall away from God in the final analysis. Therefore we cannot rely wholly on a verbal profession of faith to assure us of an individual’s—or even a family member’s—salvation. The regenerate heart makes the difference, which no man can see.

    To wrap-up, circumcision, not unlike baptism, never was a guarantee of anyone’s salvation. As you know, all of Israel was circumcised…but not all Israel had faith; not all of those who had the sign and seal of the covenant community—marking them publicly as covenant-members—were actually saved. It’s the heart-circumcision that counts. The invisible. We include our children in to the visible covenant community and trust in their salvation as far as we can know (even baptizing them), but just like with Israel and her children, only God can see the invisible. Only God can know the circumcision of the heart in the final analysis.

    Also, though they are baptized as infants, the sign does not necessarily accompany, at the time the sign is administered, the thing signified. For example, Isaac was circumcised on the 8th day, before he could have possibly been aware of any faith, but later brought forth the fruit of faith in trusting the God of his father Abraham. The sign of circumcision visibly included him into the covenant community, and he therefore was looked upon by the community as an heir of Abraham’s faith—but only later did he show forth the fruit of the faith that was believed on by those around him; becoming a first-hand receiver of the promise directly from God, or, through his faith, not only the recipient of the words of a spoken promise, but the reality of what was spoken in the promise itself, knowing that God cannot lie.

    Anyway, I feel like I’m just digressing here. To try to directly answer your Q’s:

    • Believing makes them believers; baptism makes them covenant community members who are, in good faith, treated as believing individuals (though that reality may occur at an uncertain time). The belief is sort of projected onto them, since, being children, it is assumed that their faith will naturally occur at any given time (which, I think, we probably will not witness).
    • Since the gift of belief and the giving of the Holy Spirit does not necessarily accompany the sign (such as with the case of the circumcision of Isaac, or a baptized person who has fallen away), the issue of salvation remains a complete and utter work of God, not leaving any room for man to boast. Baptism however, remains an issue of covenant ratification and of visible inclusion into a community of believers, who believe wholly—though not finally—in the reality of the thing signified in the ceremony, which is, in short, union with Christ.
    • No, the children still cannot be lumped in with unbelievers. They are a special case, as children. They should be regarded as children of the promise: born unregenerate and not yet believing in anything, but soon to receive the promise and reality for themselves, as Isaac, along the way. We believe this will come when the Lord wills, and so assume it to be an ever-present reality, not knowing specifically when it will occur. As our children, they are also covered since they are raised in this faith, giving us grounds for their baptism…a confirmation to us; a ratification of the covenant God will include them in and unite them to in his own time, which we believe on with our whole hearts. (Though we are not ignorant of unbelieving, circumcised Israel.)
    • If our children are elect as our faith hopes for and maintains, then they will always believe. If they are not elect, then in the end they will not believe, nor will they ever have done so (to our dismay and loving error). If they end up not believing (which only God knows), then they will have died in unbelief, having never received the Holy Spirit, nor unity with Christ in his baptism into death and resurrection unto life. They will be as tares among wheat, benefiters but not believers—part of the visible church, but not included in the invisible church…a number that no one but God can discern for sure. However, in the case of our short-sightedness, we resolve to consider them children of promise, seen as those destined to be conformed to the image of Christ, regarded the same as all the rest of the visible covenant members are.
    • We pray for their ultimate salvation, as for our own ultimate salvation. But, as far as we know, they do believe already.

    Thanks for listening to my discourse,

    Chris Jager
    Tillamook, OR

    P.S. - This is what I really do believe…unless of course someone can show me that Scripture proves it to be false. In which case I hope I would be willing to submit to the clear teaching of the Word of God…and not man.

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  • Guest - Bruce

    In reading this it appears that infant baptizism does nothing for the child, but gives you hope of their eventual salvation. I agree whole heartedly with your discourse on salvation and how it takes place ( in Gods time by the quickening of the Holy Spirit) but have to disagree with you when you say your children are not unbelievers but children, they are after all, born in sin. Does this not make them unbelievers? At least until such time as God quickens them and they make their confession? They aren't held in some kind of limbo just because they are baptized are they?Romans states, God loved Jacob and Hated Esau before they were born. Both were circumcised, which for them proved their Jewish heritage , nothing more. God saved one not the other. Isn't this the freedom the potter has over the clay?
    I readily admit that being born into a Christian home may help expose our children to Christ but having children that were baptized as infants ( to keep the grand parents happy) and as adults, after confessing that they understand and believe, now live "in sin" if you want to use those terms. I also know that if they are true believers they will not continue to do so. My prayer was and continues to be for their salvation, while at the same time resting in the fact that God will do His will in their life, saved or not, and for this I will not fault God. This is where my understanding of election, predestination, and God Sovereignty has helped me to trust and rely on God and God alone. Not in some man made sacrament. I found infant baptisism to be a false hope of salvation in my children, as have many others that have been left with the bitter sweet taste of covenant theology. Not that as baptized adults it is any better, for many of those have walked away also.
    This is where 1 Jn 2:19 come into play, if they don't come back into the fold, they are showing us they were never a part of the elect to begin with, and that is Gods way of showing us that.
    And while it is true that the Bible does not say we can not baptize our babies, should we. Just like Romans asks could we continue in sin that grace may abound? We could but should we? Paul's answer is heavens no, why would you ?
    I would like to say that I wish you luck with your children but that would be inappropriate, knowing God controls all things, but I do ask you to look at baptisism from both sides of the fence. Take the time to " justify" adult baptisism . Look at the adult baptisism perspective and the proofs therein. I did and it certainly changed my perspective.
    I enjoyed your input thank you

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  • Guest - Chris

    Hi there Bruce,

    The irony in all of this is that none of my infant children have been baptized, nor any of my children for that matter! ...yet.

    I hesitate to respond to your post in light of the seriousness of the subject, how it has personally affected both you and your children—and that not being in a positive way. I don’t want to badger you or embitter you against someone who just won’t listen. But I do hear what you are saying and I grieve with you, so I hope that by responding again I am not crossing the line.

    I really do know the side of believer's baptism, since I grew up in that circle. Growing up I was taught that one must wait to be baptized until he or she is ready; knowing what baptism is and what it "stands for" or represents. And then, when a believer is ready to declare to the world that he is a Christian and will "really commit" and "follow Him forever," they may ask to participate in this symbolic act – a necessary step (somehow) of the Christian walk. Something any obedient Christian should do and that the Lord has commanded.

    Growing up in Pentecostal circles (A of G), I struggled to understand, even from right out of the Bible, what baptism really was. Why was it so crucially necessary, so much so that the Lord mandated that it be done? Believe me, I have heard the arguments. I just don’t think they are very biblically strong ones. Why Baptize? Why not rather just verbally, publically even, declare a commitment and understanding of what believing in Christ does? Wouldn’t that do the same thing, even with the “need for a ceremony” teaching in mind? One could have a “feast ceremony,” where everyone gathers around a table to listen to the host explain their identification and union with Christ. They could use water, or cleaner, or something else as an object lesson for illustration…but nothing more.

    I just kept putting the matter aside until I got to college. Then I thought that maybe it all meant “spiritual” baptism. After all, Jesus is the true baptizer…baptizing with the Holy Spirit (at regeneration) and with fire (at judgment), or so I was taught. What if our baptism should be sought after from Jesus alone—the giver of the Spirit? I studied Acts quite extensively and thought I was on to something…but was squelched, by way of confusion, by my professor at that time. (Don’t ever let the term “non-denominational” fool you. It doesn’t exist. If an institution teaches something supposedly from Scripture, their distinctives denominate them accordingly. If the term means “anyone from anywhere is welcome,” then all Christian churches are that way. I think the term is just a ruse to attract members. A notion that appeals to “non-judgmentalism.”)

    Anyway, upon further self-reflection, if I was correct about the spiritual nature of a Jesus-only baptism, based off of Acts 11:16, no one should be baptizing anyone with water, since what was being spoken of by the use of the word “immersion” was the spiritual immersion by Jesus of His own Holy Spirit, transforming one into the new creation; the new birth itself.

    With my academic confusion, I dropped the issue until later when I discovered the Doctrines of Grace from a Calvinistic Baptist, after I had already had 2 children. In our conversations, baptism was brought up sometimes, and I gathered mostly the same Pentecostal, A of G teaching on baptism from this good friend of mine. However, I liked the Baptist explanation better, since it emphasized a symbolism that was an “outward display of a spiritual reality,” and a “declaration for the world of what the Lord has done.” A witness of the cross. So much more Christocentric. I later discovered John MacArthur, who taught along those lines as well (and whom I respect very much). Thanks also to his lectures on the gift of tongues, ha ha!

    So up until this point I still waited for my children to believe, one day… on a day when they would finally exclaim to me with their deepest confession their devotion to the gospel. Then I would have them baptized. But since that was probably far off, I just put it out of my mind, kind of.

    Yet I still sensed that I should not be counting my children out “until,”… but should be growing them in, “as if.” How much do they need to believe for Christ to forgive all their sins, as mine had been? I wanted so much for them to share in eternity with me. Should I keep looking into their hearts for conversion? But then, I guess through reason, I realized that my kids were praying…on their own. They were asking faith-based questions…all on their own.

    Not far from this time I began learning of covenant theology, which I later discovered that my college had been teaching against, as proponents of dispensationalism. I could never understand how I could read the bible so plainly one way, and then how my professor could turn it all around so certainly to satisfy his own superior view. I always thought I was just getting it wrong all the time. With my newfound learning of covenant theology, everything seemed to come together with ease and harmony—and not without the underwriting and declaration of Scripture. As Horton says, you really do need a 30,000 foot view of the Bible to understand what is going on within its particular parts. I think what Modern Reformers are teaching—even “Modified-Reformers” like MacArthur—really make sense of the more archaic practices in Scripture, and even in the church—both historic and modern.

    Further still, I’ve recently learned a great deal of history…a sad void in my life—one certainly never talked about in my church or small Christian college growing up. Through history I’ve learned, though not extensively yet, the unfolding drama of the church through the ages, which really has shaped our world today. And I wonder where this plain and simple record—this tremendously helpful, reliable, and rock-solid witness—has been all my life. Why aren’t Pentecostal and evangelical churches foundationally grounding their listeners with “what they believe and why they believe it.” History can tell people these things and can show a person how others have handled the same issues they face; leading them to see how those things have already played out over time and in different ages.

    All that to say that I couldn’t take the non-gospel teaching at my A of G church in Tillamook anymore. For the sake of my children I left, which was very difficult. These people were my close friends. But since I’ve left even more crazy stuff continues to be introduced and practiced there. They are teaching “Fire Starters,” by Kevin Dedmon. A training on how to be an effective revivalist. Would have sounded so appealing years ago…

    But I’m going to the Redeemer Lutheran church now (LCMS), and I love it. The community is both loving and so genuine. Truth is proclaimed. Gospel and Law are preached. Teaching remains sound. Though I differ somewhat on the supper and baptism (siding with Calvin and Horton in a covenant context), I still attend and love it. My kids want to be baptized, and we are just waiting to make it happen.

    Over time I’ve been shown to see my children not merely technically as unbelievers on a timeline, but as believers-in-the-making, who would never know anything else (though technically I would concede that yes, before regeneration they would be called un-believers, or maybe more accurately “non”-believers, since they don’t believe in anything as infants.) My little guys would face challenges, as I have, but would overcome them by faith through the work of the indwelt and present Spirit of Christ. I began to believe in their regeneration, just as sure as I could be of my own, and along with covenant-theology, the scriptural basis for this reasoning. As I’ve already mentioned, how could I possibly know when this salvific work would occur in their person? I concluded that I would rather assume that it had, than live—unnecessarily—as if it hadn’t.

    And what about your children as well? Couldn’t there be hope of election—even early belief and regeneration as children—with your own, even though things seem to appear not yet so? Couldn’t grace increase all the more for your elect children; Christ’s atonement even covering their momentary sinful unbelief, until they return to their senses and come back in repentance as heirs, or as elect and beloved prodigals returning home? Maybe they are wrestling with God in anger, but in their inward and invisible regeneration, actually do believe on Him and His Son—as you so reared them? Maybe only out of confusion have they said statements of unbelief. I’m sure they haven’t received total revelation yet, so as to fall away permanently.

    I admonish you and encourage you on in your prayers for their final and complete salvation, and I join you. Only don’t give up on what you cannot see. Maybe there is hope after all that they do believe, but only struggle with their unbelief. Believe and include them with fervent hope, against what you see so surely. We don’t sin so that grace may increase…but truly when we really do need grace because of our indwelling sin, grace does in fact increase all the more…thanks be to our great God.

    Sincerely, with respect,

    Chris Jager
    Tillamook, OR

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  • Guest - Bruce

    Chris I have been blogging with a Luthern LCMS under the heading of" what it means to be Protestant" in this same web site, you might want to read that. Bill lays out some pretty confusing theology and beliefs, held by the Luthern church. I too have spent time in A of G , Reserection Life , and under the teachings of some of the founders of the Emergent Church movement. My family has suffered because of the confusion these churches have caused. We now have a small house church and have come to the Calvinest Baptist or more appropriately Reformed Baptist understand. Unfortunately there are very few around, but have found Dr James White and his web site very helpful, with solid biblical stuff, that makes sense, when properly laid up against what the Bible teaches. I say this after reading Horton, Sproul, Boice, and other Reformed teacher try to use their logic( human logic as I see it) to what I call justify their position on infant baptisism. The problem is there is no scriptural basis for it, or proof of it being practiced, or commanded, like there is for believers baptisism.
    My children have all prayed the sinners prayer and a couple have been baptized like my wife and they know the Gospel but it doesn't seem to carry any weight with them in the way they make decisions in life. It's not that they live a "bad" life style, like they look at what God has to offer and what the world has and some time the choose God when it fits and some times the world. And it's usuall the world because it gives instant gratification.
    So are they saved as they profess ? I don't know. I hope and pray they are but can only wait and see how God affects the way they live out there lives. That like 1Jn1 says is the proof of their salvation.
    Please read the other blog I have been taking part of an let me know what you think
    Bruce in Wyoming.

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  • Guest - Chris

    Thank you Bruce, I will read the other feed that you are on. I'll get back to you soon, but I will just say this for now: at least they are professing faith and salvation. That at least means that there is something going on there. Again, do we err on the side of their salvation, or their damnation and unbelief? We can't measure sanctification with a tape, or our eyes--but we can hope that God does in fact see their growth somewhere where we cannot. Remember God is in the business of justifying us why we are still in sin and enemies to him. With that same spirit then, consider them as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. At least they do not claim to still be His enemies.

    Thank you for the opportunity of getting to know you. I wish we could join together someday at the Lord's table and in friendship face to face! I'll just remember that you are at His table as well, though far away.

    Until later,

    Chris Jager
    Tillamook, OR

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  • Guest - Chris

    Hey Bruce,

    Just getting back to you on this feed. You've probably already read my responses on the other feed. I'm not proud of them.

    I just got angry because there were problems and issues that I thought you had questions on, and wanted to address, but that were being either overlooked, misunderstood, or spoken over. I also sensed an attitude of superiority and boastfulness in "superior" knowledge, instead of humility, patience, and maturity. I felt like instead of staying on topic and explaining one's position, there was a breakdown in the lines of communication, understanding, and overall agruement.

    I responded harshly and I just wanted to apologize for that.


    Chris Jager
    Tillamook, OR

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  • Guest - gary

    Hebrew children in the Old Testament were born into God's covenant, both male and female. Circumcision was the sign of this covenant for boys, but the sign was not what saved them. Faith saved them. Rejecting the sign, circumcision, for boys, either by the parents or later as an adult himself, was a sign of a lack of true faith, and therefore the child was "cut off" from God's promises as clearly stated in Genesis chapter 17:

    "Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

    What was the purpose of this covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? God tells us in the beginning of this chapter of Genesis:

    "And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you."

    This covenant wasn't just to establish a Jewish national identity or a promise of the inheritance of the land of Caanan, as some evangelicals want you to believe. In this covenant, God promises to be their God. Does God say here that he will be their God only if they make a "decision for God" when they are old enough to have the intelligence and maturity to decide for themselves? No! They are born into the covenant!

    If Jewish children grew up trusting in God and lived by faith, they then received eternal life when they died. If when they grew up, they rejected God, turned their back on God, and lived a life of willful sin, when they died, they suffered eternal damnation. Salvation was theirs to LOSE. There is no record anywhere in the Bible that Jewish children were required to make a one time "decision for God" upon reaching an "Age of Accountability" in order to be saved.

    Therefore Jewish infants who died, even before circumcision, were saved.

    The same is true today. Christian children are born into the covenant. They are saved by faith. It is not the act of baptism that saves, it is faith. The refusal to be baptized is a sign of a lack of true faith and may result in the child being "cut off" from God's promise of eternal life, to suffer eternal damnation, as happened with the unfaithful Hebrew in the OT.

    Christ said, "He that believes and is baptized will be saved, but he that does not believe will be damned."

    It is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of faith that damns.

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals blog

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