1 John 2:3
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
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(5) The fourth inference from the doctrine that God is Light analyses more accurately the general expression of 1John 1:7, walking in the light. If Christ is, as in 1John 2:1-2, the Paraclete and Propitiation of the world, it becomes necessary to ascertain whether He is this to us; lest, when this salvation is offered, we condemn ourselves by rejecting it. The test is, “obedience to the commandments, especially in brotherly love.”

(3) Hereby means, by what follows.

That we know him.—Rather, have known Him (so also in 1John 2:4, I have known Him); that we have not grasped a shadow, but have been in intercourse with the living God, who reveals Himself not through speculation, but through a true inward life of man.

If we keep his commandments.—Christ’s—because of the reference to John 14:15. “Keep” like a precious heirloom, watching them against the inroads of our lower nature. (Comp. Matthew 19:17; Matthew 28:20; 1Timothy 6:14.) If each man’s conscience was the standard of practice, confusion would again reign in morals as it reigned in the days of the Sophists at Athens. (Compare Plato’s Republic, Bk. 2, Jowett’s translation.) A code and an example fitted for all times and all circumstances have been given by our Lord.

(4) He that saith . . .—In particularising the general proposition according to his custom, St. John rejects the first person plural as shocking, unreal, and artificial, and throws the blasphemy on some third person. So “is a liar” is stronger than “we lie,” and “we deceive ourselves;” in such a case the lie has entered thoroughly into the man’s nature.

(5) But whoso keepeth his word.—The revelation of the will of God, looked at as a whole.

In him verily is the love of God perfected.—St. John has before his mind an ideal of a man so filled with the Spirit that in all things he embodies the will of God; the love that such a man has for God is indeed complete. But he knows that the best of the human race can only approach such an ideal in different degrees, at a great distance; and the perfection of the love which they bear to God will vary in the same degree. (Comp. 1John 2:15; 1John 3:17; 1John 4:12; 1John 5:3.) “In him verily;” rather, Truly in him. It is most emphatic, and refers back “the truth is not in him,” in 1John 2:4.

Hereby know we that we are in him.—Comp. 1John 2:3 and 1John 1:6; without such a test there Could be no happiness in religion. “In him” implies that we are saved by His grace, surrounded by His love, inspired by His thoughts, partakers of His nature, filled by His Spirit, the dwelling-place of the Father and the Son, with certain access to the divine throne and certain answer to prayer, heirs of the heavenly kingdom.

(6) Ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.—Abiding in Him—in Christ—is an evident reference to John 15:4-11. In the terms of 1John 2:3-5 there is a double gradation: on the one hand, knowing Him, being in Him, remaining in Him; on the other, keeping His commandments, keeping His word, walking even as He walked. The last expression is the strongest of the latter three, as it views the Christian in action. The walk of Christ was the walk in the light (comp. 1John 1:7); divine love the secret spring developing itself in a new virtue for every variety of circumstance. In 1John 2:7-11 brotherly love is introduced as the special manifestation of this obedience that springs from the walk in the light. At a superficial glance it might have been thought that the personal address introduced a new paragraph; it is really only like the “Verily, verily,” of our Lord, breaking in to emphasize a message to be brought directly home to the hearts of the readers. The life of obedience, the walk in light, is nothing else but the life of brotherly love: “This is my commandment, that ye love one another” (John 15:12; comp. also John 13:34-35).

(7) I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginningi.e., “I am preparing to give you a special direction, which has been implied already by the walk in light. If you look at it from the point of view of your first entrance into Christ’s kingdom it is old, because it was the chief point of His moral teaching which you then heard. If you look at its effect in you it is new, because (1) it had never been taught so forcibly and clearly before Christ; (2) you are so imperfect that you are always liable to forget it; (3) your obedience to the command can never be complete, but will always require fresh growth; (4) it can never be permanent without continual renewal by Christ’s presence.” “Ye” is therefore his present Christian audience; “from the beginning” implies the time of their conversion; “the word” is here less wide than in 1John 2:6, and means rather Christ’s teaching on this point. (Comp. 2John 1:5; Leviticus 19, Leviticus 18:24.)

(8) Which thing is true in him and in you.—The commandment might have hung in the air and remained “old,” i.e., confined to the definite point of time of its promulgation, had it not been embodied for ever (1) in the living example of Christ during His life on earth; (2) in His active presence and power since His resurrection; (3) in the conduct and character of His people, radically renewed by His Spirit and continually growing after His image. (Comp. 1John 3:23; John 13:34.)

Because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.—Rather, is passing away; already shineth. Here he gives the reason why he announces as new what he says is already truly realised in Christ and in process of realisation in His people. A visible change, a notable renovation, is going on; the gross darkness that covered the face of the earth is being rent away in the circle of the apostolic preaching; the life of the Lord, which gleamed forth for three-and-thirty years in the cities and on the hill-sides of Judæa and Samaria and Galilee, is now bursting far and wide into ever-increasing brightness; wondrously quick is the spread of the rays of His glory; multitudes in every known land are gathered into His kingdom. Old things are passing away as the Apostle looks round, and all things are becoming new. (Comp. John 1:4-9; Romans 13:12; Ephesians 5:8; 1Thessalonians 5:4-5.)

1 John 2:3-6. Hereby we do know that we, truly and savingly, know him — As he is the Advocate, the righteous One, the Propitiation; if we keep his commandments — Particularly those of faith and love. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar — “The Nicolaitans and Gnostics, notwithstanding they lived in an habitual course of the most criminal sensual indulgences, boasted that they were the objects of God’s love, and sure of obtaining eternal life, merely because they possessed the knowledge of the true God, and of his mercy in forgiving men’s sins. In this boasting the apostle declared them liars, either because they spake what they knew to be false, or at least what was in itself most false.” But whoso keepeth his word — Sincerely endeavours to live in obedience to all his commands; in him verily is the love of God — Reconciled to us through Christ; perfected — Perfectly known, or shows itself to be sincere. See on 1 John 4:12. Hereby — By our keeping his word; know we that we are in him — Truly united to him by a lively faith, and have communion with him. So is the tree known by its fruits. To know him, to be in him, to abide in him, are nearly synonymous terms; only with a gradation: knowledge, communion, constancy. He that saith he abideth in him — An expression which implies a durable state; a constant, lasting knowledge of and communion with him; ought himself — Otherwise they are vain words; so to walk, even as he walked — In the world. As he are words that frequently occur in this epistle. Believers, having their hearts full of him, easily supply his name.2:3-11 What knowledge of Christ can that be, which sees not that he is most worthy of our entire obedience? And a disobedient life shows there is neither religion nor honesty in the professor. The love of God is perfected in him that keeps his commandments. God's grace in him attains its true mark, and produces its sovereign effect as far as may be in this world, and this is man's regeneration; though never absolutely perfect here. Yet this observing Christ's commands, has holiness and excellency which, if universal, would make the earth resemble heaven itself. The command to love one another had been in force from the beginning of the world; but it might be called a new command as given to Christians. It was new in them, as their situation was new in respect of its motives, rules, and obligations. And those who walk in hatred and enmity to believers, remain in a dark state. Christian love teaches us to value our brother's soul, and to dread every thing hurtful to his purity and peace. Where spiritual darkness dwells, in mind, the judgment, and the conscience will be darkened, and will mistake the way to heavenly life. These things demand serious self-examination; and earnest prayer, that God would show us what we are, and whither we are going.And hereby we do know that we know him - To wit, by that which follows, we have evidence that we are truly acquainted with him, and with the requirements of his religion; that is, that we are truly his friends. The word "him" in this verse, seems to refer to the Saviour. On the meaning of the word "know," see the notes at John 17:3. The apostle had stated in the previous part of this Epistle some of the leading points revealed by the Christian religion, and he here enters on the consideration of the nature of the evidence required to show that we are personally interested in it, or that we are true Christians. A large part of the Epistle is occupied with this subject. The first, the grand evidence - that without which all others would be vain - he says is, that we keep his commandments.

If we keep his commandments - See the notes at John 14:15. Compare John 14:23-24; John 15:10, John 15:14.

3. hereby—Greek, "in this." "It is herein," and herein only, that we know (present tense) that we have knowledge of (perfect tense, once-for-all obtained and continuing knowledge of) Him" (1Jo 2:4, 13, 14). Tokens whereby to discern grace are frequently given in this Epistle. The Gnostics, by the Spirit's prescient forewarning, are refuted, who boasted of knowledge, but set aside obedience. "Know Him," namely, as "the righteous" (1Jo 2:1, 29); our "Advocate and Intercessor."

keep—John's favorite word, instead of "do," literally, "watch," "guard," and "keep safe" as a precious thing; observing so as to keep. So Christ Himself. Not faultless conformity, but hearty acceptance of, and willing subjection to, God's whole revealed will, is meant.

commandments—injunctions of faith, love, and obedience. John never uses "the law" to express the rule of Christian obedience: he uses it as the Mosaic law.

This faith is often in the Holy Scripture signified by the name of knowledge, Isaiah 53:11 John 17:3, viz. an appropriative, transformative knowledge, by which we own and accept God in Christ, as ours, (expressed also by acknowledgment, epignwsiv, Ephesians 1:17 Colossians 2:2), and are changed into his likeness, 2 Corinthians 3:18. The meaning then is: That we perceive, or discern ourselves to be sincere believers, and consequently that Christ is both our Propitiation and Advocate, when it is become habitual and easy to us to obey his commandments. And hereby we do know that we know him,.... Either the Father, with whom Christ is an advocate; not as the God of nature, and by the light of it, nor as the lawgiver and Judge of the whole earth, and by the law of Moses; but as the God of all grace, as a God pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin, as the Father of Christ, and as in him by the Gospel; and this not in a mere notional and speculative way, but with love and affection; not with fear and trembling, as devils know him, nor in theory, as formal professors and hypocrites, but with a knowledge, joined with hearty love of him, and cheerful obedience to him: or else Christ, the advocate and propitiation for sin; and him also, not with a mere notional knowledge of his person and offices, which carnal men and devils themselves have of him, but with that which is spiritual, special, and saving, being from the Spirit and grace of God; and regards Christ as a Saviour, as a propitiatory sacrifice for sin, and an advocate with God the Father; and by which he is approved as such, to the rejection of all other savours, sacrifices, and advocates; and is trusted, confided, and believed in as such, and affectionately loved, and that above all others, in sincerity and truth; and is readily obeyed in his word and ordinances; for where there is true knowledge of Christ, there is faith in him; and where there is faith in him, there is love to him, for faith works by love; and where there is love to him, there will be an observance of his commands; and this is here made the evidence of the true knowledge of him: for it follows,

if we keep his commandments; not the commandments of men, for the keeping of them arises from ignorance of God, and is a proof of it; nor the commandments of the ceremonial law, which are abolished, particularly circumcision, which is opposed to the keeping of the commandments of God, 1 Corinthians 7:19; but either those of the moral law, and which are more particularly the commandments of God the Father; the observance of which, though it cannot be with perfection, yet being in faith, and from love to God, and with a view to his glory, is an evidence of the true knowledge of him and of his will: or else those commandments, which are more especially the commandments of Christ Jesus; such as the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's supper, which are peculiar to the Gospel dispensation; and which being kept as they were delivered by Christ, and in his name and strength, and to his glory, without depending on them for life and salvation, is an argument and proof of the right knowledge of him; and particularly his new commandment of loving one another may be chiefly designed, that being what the apostle has greatly in view throughout this epistle; now let it be observed, that keeping of the commands of God, or Christ, is not the knowledge of either of them itself, for much may be done in an external way, yet neither God nor Christ be spiritually and savingly known; nor is it the cause of such knowledge, for that is owing to the Spirit and grace of God; but is an effect or consequence of spiritual knowledge, and so an evidence of it; hereby is not the knowledge itself, but the knowledge of that knowledge, that is, that it is true and genuine.

{2} And hereby we do know that we {e} know him, {e} if we keep his commandments.

(2) He returns to the testimony of our union with God, that is, to sanctification, declaring what it is to walk in the light, that is, to keep God's commandments. By this it follows that holiness does not consist in those things which men have devised, neither in a vain profession of the gospel.

(d) This must be understood of such a knowledge as has faith with it, and not of a common knowledge.

(e) For the tree is known by the fruit.

1 John 2:3. Semler would make a new section begin here: “after the foundation of salvation has been spoken of, there follows the exhortation to preserving the salvation;” incorrectly; 1 John 2:3 is closely connected with chap. 1 John 1:5-6, and states in what the Christian’s walk in light consists; therefore also it begins simply with καί.

ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν] ἐν τούτῳ refers to the following ἐάν; the object is stated by ὅτι; the same combination is found in the Gospel of John 13:35; similarly in chap. 1 John 4:13, where, however, the particle ὅτι is used instead of ἐάν, and chap. 1 John 5:2, where ὅταν is used. A Lapide wrongly weakens the force of γινώσκομεν: non certo et demonstrative, sed probabiliter et conjecturaliter; it is rather the anxiety of the apostle to bring out that the Christian has a sure and certain consciousness of the nature of the Christian life. This certainty is confirmed to him by unmistakeable facts, in which the truth of his knowledge attests itself.

ὅτι ἐγνώκαμεν αὐτόν] αὐτόν seems to refer to the last-mentioned subject in 1 John 2:2, therefore to Christ; so it is explained by Oecumenius, Erasmus, Grotius, Calov, Spener, Bengel, Semler, Johannsen, Sander, Myrberg, Erdmann, etc.; but the deeper train of thought is opposed to this; John is not continuing the idea of 1 John 2:2, but is going back to the fundamental thought of the whole section: “He who has fellowship with God walks in the light;” the principal subject is God, and to it, therefore, αὐτόν is to be referred; so Calvin, Beza, Lücke, Baumgarten-Crusius, Ewald, de Wette, Brückner, Ebrard, Düsterdieck, Braune, etc.[90]

On ἘΓΝΏΚΑΜΕΝ, which is not, with Lange and Carpzov, to be interpreted = “love,” the commentators rightly remark that it is not a mere external, purely theoretical knowledge that is to be understood by it;[91] it is the living knowledge that is meant, i.e. a knowledge in which the subject (God) is really received into the inner life, and thought and action are determined by it,[92] so that ἐγνωκέναι is necessarily connected with the κοινωνίαν ἔχειν μετʼ αὐτοῦ (chap. 1 John 1:6); still it is inexact to render ὅτι ἐγνώκαμεν αὐτόν, with Oecumenius, directly by ὅτι συνεκράθημεν αὐτῷ, or, with Clarius, by societatem habemus cum eo. By ἐγνώκαμεν the element of consciousness in the fellowship, and with this its internal and spiritual side, is brought out.

ἐὰν τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηρῶμεν] The expression τ. ἐντολ. τηρεῖν[93] describes the obedience resulting from the internal faithful keeping of the commandments;[94] it is incorrect, with Braune, so to press the idea τηρεῖν here, in its distinction from ποιεῖν, that merely “attention to the commandments” is to be understood by it; it rather includes in itself the actual obedience. This obedience is not here regarded as the means of the knowledge of God, but as the proof of it; rightly Oecumenius: διὰ τῶν ἔργων ἡ τελεία δεδείκνυται ἀγάπη; only he should have said “γνῶσις” instead of ἀγάπη. Between both of those there is the same relationship as between fellowship with God and walking in light; for as the former is related to the knowledge of God, so is the latter related to the observance of the divine commandments, which is the concrete embodiment of ἐν τῷ φωτὶ περιπατεῖν.

[90] The reason brought forward by Ebrard: “it lies also in the idea of the commandments, that they are mentioned as commandments of the Father and not of the Son,” is not valid; comp. Gospel of John 14:15; John 14:21; John 14:23; John 15:10. Ebrard, on the other hand, rightly points to ver. 6, where ἐκεῖνος (Christ) is distinguished from αὐτός. From this verse it also follows that John, in this section, is considering Christ not as having given commandments, but as having walked according to the commandments of God.

[91] Lorinus: cognoscere cum quadam voluntatis propendentis approbatione.—A Lapide: cognitione non tantum speculativa, sed et practica, quae cum amore et affectu conjuncta est, ac in opus derivatur.—Spener: “This is not a mere knowing (1 Corinthians 8:1), such as may exist without love, but a knowledge which comes into the heart and fulfils His will with trust.”—De Wette: “Knowledge of the heart, not of the mind, wherewith activity is also assumed.”—Lücke: “the knowledge of God in the highest sense; not, however, in so far as it is identical with the love of God, but only in so far as it really impels men practically to fulfilment of the divine commands, and thus reveals itself in growing love to the God who is known as the Light.”

[92] Weiss not unjustly contends against the current view of γινώσκειν in John, in so far as the idea of knowledge is not kept pure in it from confusion with other ideas; but when Weiss says that in John only “the knowledge that rests on immediate contemplation is to be thought of,” and observes that “it lies in the nature of the case, that in this intuition and contemplation the object is received into the entire spiritual being of man as a—nay, as the determining power,” he not only agrees with the explanation given above, but defines the idea in such a way as not to deviate so very far from the commentators whom he opposes as his polemic would lead one to suppose.

[93] It is to be noticed, that to describe the Christian commandments John never uses νόμος (which by him is only used in reference to the Mosaic Law), but generally ἐντολαί (only now and then λόγος Θεοῦ or Χριστοῦ); and as verb, τηρεῖν, never ποιεῖν (except in Revelation 22:14).—In the writings of Paul, τηρεῖν ἑντολήν appears only in 1 Timothy 6:14, and besides in the N. T. in Matthew 19:17 (Matthew 28:20 : τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν).

[94] The paraphrase of Semler may be given here merely for its curiosity: Si (nos Apostoli) retinemus et magnifacimus hanc ejus doctrinam: Deum esse pariter omnium gentium.

1 John 2:3-11. Further antithetical statement of the believers’ walk in light; it is described as τηρεῖν τὰς ἐντολὰς Θεοῦ (1 John 2:3-6); this then is further defined as a περιπατεῖν καθὼς ἐκεῖνος περιεπάτησε (1 John 2:6), and ἀγαπᾷν τὸν ἀδελφόν is emphasized as being the essence of this walk (1 John 2:7-11).1 John 2:3-6. The Proof of our Interest in Christ’s Propitiation and Advocacy. “And herein we get to know that we know Him—if we observe His commandments. He that saith ‘I know Him,’ and observeth not His commandments, is a liar, and in this man the Truth is not; but whosoever observeth His Word, truly in this man the love of God hath been carried to its end. Herein we get to know that we are in Him; he that saith he abideth in Him is bound, even as the Lord (ἐκεῖνος) walked, himself also so to walk.” The Apostle foresees a question which may be raised: “How can I be assured that Christ is all this to me—my Propitiation, my Advocate? And how can I be assured that I have an abiding interest in Him?” He answers: (1) We attain to personal and conscious acquaintance with Christ by observance of His commandments (1 John 2:3-5 a); (2) we attain to assurance of abiding union with Him by “walking even as He walked” (5b, 6).3. hereby we do know that we know Him] Or, herein we come to know that we know Him: in the Greek we have the present and perfect of the verb which means ‘to come to know, perceive, recognise’ (γινώσκειν); the perfect of which, ‘I have come to know’ = ‘I know.’ Comp. the Collect for the First Sunday after Epiphany; ‘that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do.’ Progressive knowledge gained by experience is implied. ‘Herein’ followed by ‘if’, or ‘that’, or ‘because’, or ‘when, is a frequent construction in S. John: John 2:5; John 3:16; John 3:19; John 4:9-10; John 4:13; John 4:17; John 5:2; John 13:35; John 15:8. Excepting Luke 10:20, it occurs nowhere else in N. T.

if we keep His commandments] This is equivalent to ‘not sinning’ in 1 John 2:1, and to ‘walking in the light’ in 1 John 1:6. There is no real knowledge of God, no fellowship with Him, without practical conformity to His will. Nam quisquis eum non amat, profecto ostendit, quia quam sit amabilis, non novit (Bede). S. John is again condemning that Gnostic doctrine which made excellence to consist in mere intellectual enlightenment. Divorced from holiness of life, says S. John, no enlightenment can be a knowledge of God. In his system of Christian Ethics the Apostle insists no less than Aristotle, that in morals knowledge without practice is worthless: ‘not speculation but conduct’ is the aim of both the Christian and the heathen philosopher. Mere knowledge will not do: nor will knowledge ‘touched by emotion’ do. It is possible to know, and admire, and in a sort of way love, and yet act as if we had not known. But S. John gives no encouragement to devotion without a moral life (comp. 1 John 1:6). There is only one way of proving to ourselves that we know God, and that is by loving obedience to His will. Compare the very high standard of virtue set by Aristotle: he only is a virtuous man who does virtuous acts, “first, knowingly; secondly, from deliberate preference, and deliberate preference for the sake of the acts (and not any advantages resulting from them); and thirdly, with firm and unvarying purpose” (Nic. Eth. II. iv. 3).

The phrase ‘to keep (His) commandments’ or ‘keep (His) word’ is of frequent occurrence in S. John’s writings, Gospel (John 14:15; John 14:21; John 15:10; John 8:51-52; John 8:55; John 14:23; John 15:20; John 17:6), Epistle (1 John 2:4, 1 John 3:22; 1 John 3:24; 1 John 3:5 :[2,] 3; 1 John 2:5) and Revelation (Revelation 12:17, Revelation 14:12; Revelation 3:8; Revelation 3:10). Comp. John 14:24; Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:9. The word ‘to keep’ (τηρεῖν) means to be on the watch to obey and fulfil; it covers both outward and inward observance.1 John 2:3. Ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν) In this we know; that is, it is thus, and thus only, that there is true knowledge in us. We know, that we know: a reflex knowledge. Spiritual marks of discernment [Gnorismata, characteristic marks] are often given in this Epistle: manifest, we know, ch. 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 3:19. The Gnostics are refuted, who boasted of knowledge, but threw aside obedience.—ὅτι ἐγνώκαμεν αὐτὸν, that we know Him) as He is, the Advocate, the righteous, the propitiation. So 1 John 2:4; 1 John 2:13-14; Isa., the passage cited above.—ἐντολὰς, precepts) concerning faith and love.—τηρῶμεν, we keep) John 8:51, note.Verses 3-6. - Thirdly, walking in the light involves obedience. Verse 3. - And herein we perceive that we know him, if we keep his commandments γινώσκομεν, we come to know, we recognize; ἐγνώκαμεν, we have come to know, we know). The token of our having this knowledge is stated hypothetically; not because, but if, we obey. To serve under another and obey him is one of the best ways of knowing his character. The knowledge is no mere intellectual apprehension, such as the Gnostic, postulated, but a moral and spiritual affection and activity. It is possible to know and hate (John 16:24). Again, the knowledge is not a mere emotional appreciation. Christianity knows nothing of piety without morality. To know Christ is to love him, and to love him is to obey and imitate him. By "keep" τῆρῶμεν is recant "keep the eye fixed upon, observe." Hereby (ἐν τούτῳ)

Lit., in this. Characteristic of John. See John 8:35; John 15:8; John 16:30; 1 John 2:5; 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:13; 1 John 5:2; 1 John 3:16; 1 John 3:19; 1 John 4:2. The expression points to what follows, "if we keep His commandments," yet with a covert reference to that idea as generally implied in the previous words concerning fellowship with God and walking in the light.

We know (γινώσκομεν)

Or, perceive. By experience, from day to day; distinguished from οἴδαμεν we know, expressing absolute, immediate knowledge of a fact once for all. Compare 1 John 3:2.

That we know (ὅτι ἐγνώκαμεν)

Or, more literally, have come to know. John does not use the compound forms ἐπιγινώσκειν and ἐπίγνωσις (see on Matthew 7:16. See Luke 1:4; Acts 4:13; Romans 1:28; Ephesians 1:17, etc.), nor the kindred word γνῶσις knowledge (Luke 1:77; Romans 2:20, etc.).

We keep His commandments (τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηρῶμεν)

A phrase peculiar to John and occurring elsewhere only Matthew 19:17; 1 Timothy 6:14. In 1 Corinthians 7:19, we find τήρησις ἐντολῶν the keeping of the commandments. On τηρέω to keep, see on 1 Peter 1:5.

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