Series: The Suffering Savior: Meditations on the Last Days of Christ by F. W. Krummacher (1796-1868)
[learn_more caption=”Introduction and Preface”] CMC Editor’s Note: In the following preface are the words of F.W. Krummacher introducing his readers to his work. It is our intention to post all fifty three of his meditations. Krummacher is regarded as one of Germany’s greatest preachers and was often compared to Great Britain’s C.H. Spurgeon. The reader will learn much of Christ through this series of devotional meditations on the final scenes in the life of Christ on earth. The printed work (first published 1854) has been described as the greatest single volume of the entire nineteenth century on the last days of Christ’s earthly ministry. The meditations are structured around the Old Testament tabernacle. It’s our prayer that you will be richly blessed his writings.
In the following meditations I trust I have succeeded in displaying to my readers at least a portion of those riches which are contained in the inexhaustible treasury of our Savior’s sufferings. Unmutilated scriptural truth, such as I believe I promulgate, still finds a favorable reception in the world, which I have been permitted to experience in the most gratifying manner. I mention it, solely to the praise of God, and for the satisfaction of those who are like-minded, that my writings, or at least a part of them, are, as I hear, already translated into English, French, Dutch, Swedish, and as I am assured, though I cannot vouch for the fact, into the Danish language also. My “Elijah the Tishbite” has even appeared in a Chinese attire. But that which is of greater importance, is the news I am constantly receiving of the manifold blessing which the Lord of his great and unmerited favor has bestowed upon my labors. That in his condescension and loving-kindness, He would also deign to bless this my most recent work is so much the more my heartfelt wish and ardent prayer, since it has for its subject the chief supporting pillar of the whole church—the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The division of the work into the “Outer Court,” the “Holy Place,” and the “Most Holy Place,” is intended merely to point out the different stages of the Redeemer’s sufferings, from their commencement to their close, but by no means to attach a less or greater importance to them. Had the latter been the case, I would naturally have assigned the institution of the Lord’s Supper its appropriate place in the “Most Holy Place,” instead of the “Outer Court.” But in the plan of this volume, it falls among the class of events, which immediately precede the propitiatory work of the Mediator.
~ F. W. Krummacher [/learn_more]
THE HOLY PLACE
Meditation – XXV
Christ Before Pilate
Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him,
“Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.”
— Matthew 27:11 ESV
The day has just dawned—the most momentous, decisive, and eventful in the world. It greets our Lord with dreadful insignia. It approaches in a blood-stained robe, a crown of thorns to encircle his brow, in the one hand, and in the other, the scourge, the fatal cup, and the accursed tree; while it rises upon us with the olive-branch of peace, the divine acquittal, and the crown of life. O sacred Friday, day of divine compassion, birth-day of our eternal redemption, we bless you, we greet you on our knees!
We find the holy city in unwonted commotion. Masses of men move along the streets. A spectacle like that which now presents itself, had never before been witnessed. The whole Sanhedrin has risen up to conduct a delinquent, whom they have condemned to death, in solemn procession to the Roman authorities, in order to wrest from the latter the confirmation of their sentence. And who is it they are dragging there? The very man who was recently received in the same city, by the same crowd of people, with loud hosannas, and was exalted and celebrated as no one had been before. It is Jesus of Nazareth, respecting whom they cried exultingly, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and of whom, even his enemies could not refrain from testifying that a great prophet had arisen among them. He now meets us as the offscouring and refuse of the same people, who shortly before strewed palms and wreathed chaplets for him! Such is the world’s favor, and so little truth is there in the saying, “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”
The procession moves on to the palace of Herod.
For it was there that the governor usually resided, when his duties called him to Jerusalem from Caesarea, where he regularly abode. It is well known that the Roman emperors committed the several provinces, of which their extensive dominions were composed to the government of pro-consuls or viceroys. To these, procurators or governors were added for each province, whose office it was to collect the revenues, and to give the final decision in all judicial affairs. In the smaller districts, the latter not infrequently exercised the sole power, as was the case in Judea, which, with Samaria, had been incorporated into the province of Syria. It was generally said of these individuals, that they were in the habit of making their influential position the means of promoting their avaricious views; and hence they were characterized as being unjust and severe. Wherever they appeared, they were received only with mistrust and secret bitterness by their subjects; and it was only by the application of military force that they succeeded in giving effect to their commands, and in restraining the people from revolt, with which they were continually menaced.
After the deposition and removal of the Tetrarch Archelaus, Pontius Pilate, six years after the birth of Christ, was made the sixth governor of Judea. From Luke, 3:1, it appears that he was in office when John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness, and he therefore spent in Palestine the whole period of our Lord’s ministry. For ten years together he was able to maintain his position under the Emperor Tiberius, a fact which does honor to his knowledge of the are of governing, since there was probably not a more difficult post of the kind in the whole Roman empire. For apart from his having to deal with the Jews, the most cunning and intriguing of all the nations around, there was no other people upon earth to whom the government of foreigners was a greater abomination than to them. However far the Jews might be from their former glory, they were still, in spite of their degradation, as much aware as ever of their nobility as the chosen people of God; and thought themselves called, under the sanction of divine promises, which however they grossly misunderstood, eventually to bear rule over the whole earth; and yet these free-born children of Abraham were now living under a foreign yoke, and that a heathen one! Where was the wonder, then, that they bore it with stifled rage, like a captive lion in its iron collar; and that he who exercised a direct power over them, was, from the first, an object of their bitterest hatred!
It is equally comprehensible that Pilate also, on his part, could not entertain any particular liking for such a nation, and gladly made them feel his superior authority when opportunity offered. Nor could it appear strange to any one that Pilate preferred fixing his residence at Caesarea, which was chiefly inhabited by Gentiles, and by means of its harbor carried on an animated communion with the rest of the empire, rather than in the metropolis of the proud and rebellious Hebrews. There were several serious revolts in Jerusalem during his regency, which could only be quelled by calling out the Roman garrison quartered in Fort Antonia. But these repeated suppressions of the rebellious spirit of the people were accustomed to be followed by stricter measures on the part of the government, which only embittered the Jews the more. In other respects Pilate was not very severe or strict; and when he sometimes executed summary justice, as in the instance recorded in Luke 13:1, he had probably sufficient cause for so doing.
Were we able to look into the hearts of the Jews, and especially into those of their chief priests and rulers, during their procession to the Roman praetorium, we should see in them a glowing furnace of rage and vexation. It was dreadful to them to see themselves compelled to this open exhibition of their subjugation to a foreign yoke. But the bloodthirstiness under which they languished for the extirpation of the hated Nazarene, this time outweighed their boundless ambition and national pride. Foaming with indignation, like fettered hyenas raging in their chains, they proceed forward with their victim, and are compelled, by this procession, to testify, against their will, that the scepter has departed from Judah, and that the time so definitely pointed out by the dying Jacob for the appearance of the Shiloh, to whom the gathering of the people should be, had now arrived. Yes, they are compelled to acknowledge even more than this, and by means of their wickedness to place the necessity of an atonement beyond a doubt, such as the fettered captive who walked at their head, was about to accomplish.
It will doubtless be, in some measure, the conviction of every one of my readers that God must necessarily have pronounced an eternal curse on such ruthless reprobates as the characters just described, if no mediating surety interposed to take their curse upon himself, and render satisfaction to divine justice in their stead. To suppose that the Most High could pardon such sons of Belial, without anything further, would be to demand the overthrow of the whole moral government of the world, and to require nothing less than that God should act in opposition to himself, and cease to be God. Reason cannot believe in the possibility of salvation for a race like that of Adam, irrespective of an atonement; and scarcely anything in the world appears more rational than the scriptural doctrine of the redemption of sinners by the mediating intervention of the Son of God.
I confess that all that is within me would rise up in the greatest excitement and astonishment, were I to behold the thrice holy God embracing, without such an intervention, the worthless assemblage at Jerusalem in the arms of his love. In this case, nothing would be left me but to feel mistaken in God, or to disbelieve my own eyes. But when I see in the midst of those transgressors, the Lamb which takes away the sin of the world, I then see that God could open the gates of paradise even to the most degraded of that generation of vipers; and in this I should perceive nothing either enigmatical or objectionable. The Lamb is, therefore, the light in the economy and government of God, and the cross the key to the deepest mysteries of his ways and guidance.
Behold the adorable Prince of Peace bound like a criminal, and covered with ignominy! Who could be able to form a correct idea of this spectacle, and yet believe that divine justice rules the world, if we were permitted to behold the Savior only in his own person, and not at the same time as Mediator and High Priest! But now that we are aware of his Suretyship, although we may feel deeply affected at his infinite humiliation, we are no longer struck and astonished. We can even bear to be told that the visible sufferings he endured were only the faint reflection of the incomparably more horrible torments which he secretly suffered; and that the host which surrounds him with swords and spears, forms only a part of the escort which accompanies him, since another part, which is invisible and behind the curtain, is commanded by Satan himself. For when Christ experienced what was due to us, we know that the latter included all these horrors. Nothing more nor less befell him than what was destined to be endured by us on account of our sins. What an unspeakable gift do we therefore possess in the bleeding Lamb! Would too much honor be done him if our whole lives were one continued adoration of his name; and would our love exceed its measure if nothing any longer sounded sweet or lovely to us except what was interwoven with his name?
They bring the Lord Jesus to Pilate the Roman governor. The Almighty permits circumstances so to connect themselves together that the whole world, in its representatives, must participate in the condemnation of the Just One. Hence his death becomes the common crime of our race, and every mouth is stopped before the judgment-seat of God. They conduct the Lord to Pilate; and thus, what the Savior had before so distinctly predicted, when announcing his passion, was literally fulfilled: “Behold,” said he, “we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man shall be delivered unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles.” We now see the accomplishment of this prediction. By so doing Israel filled up the measure of its guilt. For the second time they hand over their brother Joseph to the uncircumcised and to strangers. By this transfer they typified, at the same time, their own fate. The world’s salvation, intended for them in the first instance, was by them most ungratefully given up to the Gentiles; while they themselves were thenceforward left to languish in darkness and the shadow of death.
The procession arrives at the governor’s palace. They lay hold of their prisoner, and rudely push him into the open portal of the house. Why do they act thus? The narrative informs us, that “they themselves went not into the judgment hall lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the passover.” Their idea was not in accordance with a right understanding of the divine law; but they obeyed the arbitrarily invented ordinance of their Rabbis, which stated that they exposed themselves to defilement by entering a house, and especially a Gentile one, in which leaven might be found. But they had no objection that their captive should be thus defiled. They even purposely push him into the house they deemed unclean, and thus tangibly and symbolically expel him, as a tax-collector and a sinner, from the commonwealth of Israel. But all this was to happen thus, in order that Christ’s character as the sinner’s Surety might become increasingly apparent, and every one perceive in the man who, by virtue of a mysterious transfer, had taken himself everything that was condemnatory in us.
There is no feature in the history of the passion which is devoid of significance. Throughout there is a manifestation of superior arrangement and divine depth of purpose. This forcible urging of the Holy One of Israel into the house of a heathen is something horrible. It exhibits a degree of wickedness worthy of Beelzebub himself. If the redemption of the world had not been at stake, how could heaven have been silent or have restrained the vials of God’s wrath? But the salvation of the world was to be accomplished, and hence it was that the Lamb of God patiently and silently endured even the most unworthy and disgraceful treatment. We could weep bloody tears to see him, who was love itself, pushed forward by the crude hands of the brutish multitude. But we will not weep over him, but over ourselves and our race, which is capable of such depravity and devilishness. Let us not overlook, however, the evangelical emblem that meets our view even in this trait of the narrative. Christ entered for us alone, not only where apparent, but where real and serious danger menaced us, even into the horrible abyss of the curse of the law, the prison of death, and the regions of darkness, in order to exhaust upon his own sacred person the force of the terrors which were prepared for us, and leave us nothing but peace, salvation, freedom, and blessing.
But what shall we say to the conduct of the Jews, who, full of the leaven of all ungodliness, while making no conscience of laying their murderous hands on the Holy One of God, act as if they were too conscientious to enter the house of an impure heathen, lest they should come in contact with the leaven which could not defile them? What a striking example do these “whited sepulchers” prove of the truth of our Lord’s words, Matt. 23:27, and what a complete commentary do they yield us on the words that follow: “You blind guides which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel!” Would to God these wretched people were the only ones of their kind! But they meet us in every form and color, even among these who call themselves Christians. Who is not acquainted with individuals who scrupulously abstain from worldly amusements, and carefully avoid coming into social contact with the worldly-minded, who not only vie with the world in all the arts of dissimulation, uncharitable judgment of others, and hateful scandal, but even go beyond it?
Who does not know those who believe that they would be committing a great crime if they performed the slightest labor on the Sunday, or if they were not the first at every performance of divine service; while it never occurs to them to regard as sin the secret service of mammon to which they are devoted—who on no account would suffer themselves to be seen at a theater or a ball—in which they do well—but forgive themselves, without hesitation, for compensating themselves for that privation, by taking part, in imagination, in all the enjoyments and pleasures of the world, and bloat with vanity, in their way, not less than the most frivolous characters of the age—who never fail to appear at the institution of beneficent establishments and associations, and head the list of the contributors, while they make no scruple of secretly practicing deceit and imposition in their trade and business, or of acting unjustly or severely toward those who are under them, or of their avarice and greediness for transitory honor?
One of the crafty devices by which men pass by the moral claims which God makes on our conduct is, that instead of bowing to the divine yoke, they form and impose another more pleasing to the flesh; thus trying to make it appear as if they performed more than God’s commands enjoined upon them. Thus arose the traditions of the Talmudistic Rabbis, which, although they are nothing but exercises easy to be performed, afforded to those who practiced them the semblance of a special piety, conscientiousness, and faithfulness in the discharge of duty. In this way also, arose the shallow and sentimental morality of our modern sophists—that tissue of unobjectionable rules of life, which it likewise derived solely from the surface of moral consciousness, and which may be practiced just as conveniently as their performance aids us in the obtainment of a virtuous appearance at an easy rate. But he is mistaken who supposes that by such counterfeit holiness he shall be able to settle accounts with the Most High; and he dishonors and insults him, who hopes to bribe him with “cups and platters,” outwardly clean, but inwardly full of “ravening wickedness.” He who reigns on high is just as little satisfied with mere deductions from the amount of obedience due to him as with the counters of our self-chosen works, instead of the pure gold of righteousness required by his law.
“The eyes of the Lord,” said the prophet Hanani to King Asa, “run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of those whose heart is perfect toward him.” He desires the whole man and not mere fractional parts. He who cannot resolve to devote himself to his service without reserve, loses nothing by withdrawing himself entirely, and placing himself at the disposal of the world and his own lusts. There is no medium between belief and unbelief. In the exercise of the former, we give ourselves entirely to God; and where this is not done, there faith does not exist, however specious the man may be in his outward profession. True conversion is a new birth, and not a patching up of the old garment. The life of godliness is a harmonious organization, and not a sticking together of single acts of piety.
Pilate soon begins to suspect why the Jews pushed their culprit toward him through the gate, but feels so little offended at this, that he pretends ignorance, and magnanimously steps out to them to ascertain the object of their coming. He considers that he has only to do with contracted and narrow-minded Jews, and deems that it comports both with his refinement and his dignity to tolerate their limited prejudices. But with these prejudices, he overlooks the fact of the divine records being in their possession. There is no want, my readers, of people among us who assume, but not without culpability, a position with reference to real Christians, similar to that of this proud Roman toward the children of Abraham. It cannot be denied that there are believing Christians who suffer from a certain partiality and contracted judgment with reference to the things of science, are, or life. But, however, those of a more refined intellect may look down with a degree of compassion on these simple people and their narrow sphere of vision, and though it may be no crime to do so, for it is often difficult to bear with such limited and contracted characters, yet, though you may appear to yourselves to be elevated above such people, and suppose that it becomes you to tolerate, with their narrow-mindedness, the truths which they profess; yet you act improperly by so doing, and will one day smart severely for your self-esteem.
If you are really in every respect far beyond these “poor in spirit,” there is nothing left for you, if you are desirous of attaining to the highest aim of your existence, but to descend from your proud elevation, and place yourselves on the same level with them. Yes, you must come down to their humble position, and, with them, learn to hunger and thirst after a righteousness which is not your own; and to the position of Lazarus at the rich man’s door, which is Christ, where you see them also lying. You must even be brought to acknowledge that they are far beyond you in all that is of real value; and that you are on the way to midnight darkness, if the faith, love, and heavenly-mindedness of these humble followers of the Lamb do not become yours. You are not restrained from being in advance of them in refinement, extensive benevolence, and maturity of judgment, or from moving more freely and unfettered, as far as the Spirit from above gives you liberty. But you must be grafted into the same stock with these inferior people, and flourish from the same root, or you will continue, on the height of your intellectual superiority, to be the children of death, while they will eventually soar toward heaven as glorified spirits from the dark chrysalis state of their defective education. Therefore beware that you do not throw away the kernel with the shell, nor be found preferring external polish to that meek and humble spirit which, in the sight of God, is of great price.
“Pilate then went out unto the people, and said, What accusation bring you against this man?” He assumes the appearance of unbelief and indifference, but he was able to take a more unprejudiced view of the matter than the Jews, and cannot think, after all he has hitherto heard of the Nazarene, and feels at that moment that they would be able to bring any serious charge against him. Like as with Pilate, so it is still with every one who looks unprejudicedly into the sacred volume. Such a one will not be able to rid himself of the impression of the spotlessness of Jesus, which nothing can shake or neutralize. But ought it not to be regarded as a matter of astonishment that a Holy One, in the full sense of the words, has really appeared in the world? Does it not indisputably follow that the sayings of this Just One are much more worthy of credence than the doctrines of all the wise men after the flesh? Does it not constrain us to the conviction that a person so illustrious and superior to all other mortals, must have been sent by God for some very particular object? And does not this idea necessarily lead to another, that there must be something extraordinary and mysterious attached to the sufferings which were poured upon this Holy One? And do we not, finally, perceive, without any positive revelation respecting it, that we are compelled to come to the conclusion, that this incomparable personage must have been selected to be the deliverer and savior of a sinful world? It is impossible to avoid such reflections, after an unprejudiced and logical consideration of the subject. But we may well ask, where do we meet with such sound and liberal minded reasoners? The indocility and stupidity of the natural man, with regard to supernatural and divine thongs, has no bounds.
To the governor’s question, of what Jesus is accused, the following haughty and insane reply is returned by his accusers, “If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto you.” In this impudent speech, their entire refractoriness toward the hated Romans is made apparent. It is the rebelliousness of fettered slaves, the fury of encaged wolves. Here again we perceive also, the furious pharisaism of the priests and the people; for though they are endeavoring to murder innocence and do the devil’s work, yet because they do it, it must be right and blameless. Can pride go beyond this? Do not let us overlook the circumstance, however, that by their arrogant language they hope to disguise the embarrassment in which, despite of all appearance to the contrary, they have involved themselves. They know of nothing from which they can form a well-grounded charge against their delinquent, and think that the bold front they put on the affair will compensate for what is deficient in proof and testimony against Jesus.
Alas! they do not entirely fail in their object. Pilate suffers himself to be overawed by their determined appearance, and places the first foot on that slippery path on which we shall afterward see him carried forward, from one crime to another, against his will, and finally ending in the abyss of perdition, amid the derisive laughter of infernal spirits. “Then said Pilate unto them, Take you him, and judge him according to your law.” What worthless behavior in a judge who ought to administer law and justice in the land! We already see how little he cares whether Jesus lives or dies, only he would not willingly have the blood of a man upon his soul whom his conscience absolves as innocent.
More reckless than the Roman are those of our contemporaries, who, like Pilate, would not personally lay hands on Jesus, because they cannot divest themselves of a certain degree of reverence for him, but secretly suggest to bolder rebels than themselves, that which Pilate did openly, when he said, “Take him and judge him according to your law,” and feel a malicious pleasure when the emissaries of Satan drag down the Holy One into the dust, pollute his Gospel with their infernal blasphemies, and reward his believing followers with the appellation of fools, or brand them as hypocrites. Compared with those who view with silent delight the anti-Christian proceedings and rebellious movements of the age, Pilate was an honorable man, while they are worthy of a double curse, and already bear the mark of it on their foreheads.
“Take you him, and judge him according to your law.”
The heathen governor would gladly have escaped from sharing the guilt of murdering the Righteous One, whom the Jews had delivered up to him. But he will not succeed in his object on the path he is now pursuing. He must either decide for or against Jesus. He is compelled either to take the part of the Holy One, to the setting aside of all private considerations, or to afford his sanction to the most cruel and bloody deed the world ever witnessed. But, my readers, the case is similar with us. There is just as little room left us for a neutral position as was left him. The Holy One of Israel comes into too close a contact with us to be quietly passed by. If we refuse to do him homage, we are compelled to aid in crucifying him. We cannot escape the alternative of rejecting him, if we will not decidedly devote ourselves to him. He testifies too loudly to our consciences that He is the Lord, to suffer us quietly to part with him with a mere passing compliment. If we wish to separate ourselves from him, nothing is left for us but to say, in positive opposition, “We will not have you to reign over us; get you behind us!” God grant that this may not be the case with any of us, but enable us to exclaim, with the apostle Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”
The Jews close the outlet before Pilate’s face by which he hoped to escape from any participation in the dreadful crime of the murder of Jesus, by giving him a reply which ought to have made him feel deeply ashamed, “It is not lawful for us,” say they, “to put any man to death.” Pilate knew this, and what confusion of ideas and increasing perplexity does the man betray, who, though he was the supreme judge, could recommend to the Jews themselves the execution of an act of justice to which they had no right, according to the existing laws. Or was Pilate induced to express himself thus foolishly, from having no idea that the accusers of Jesus were bent upon his death? This is also conceivable. But his miserable attempt at an escape is wholly frustrated, as it deserved. There is something really tragical in the fact that circumstances should so concur and be interwoven with each other that it would seem as if Pilate was to be drawn into the blood-guiltiness of the Jews. And this will assuredly be the case if he cannot resolve to give his heart, and pay homage to Jesus, even as every one who obstinately resists the call to conversion must increasingly fill up the measure of his sins, and accelerate his ripeness for destruction.
“It is not lawful for us to put any one to death.” They were not permitted to do so. If, on one occasion, they tumultuously stoned a supposed heretic to death, the Roman authorities probably leniently overlooked it. But in order to a formal accusation, and death by crucifixion in particular, they could not do without superior consent. Hence they openly, though with stifled rage, confess their dependence on the Roman tribunal. Their thirst for revenge upon the Nazarene, however, this time outweighs their national pride. The man they hate is doomed to be crucified and to perish ignominiously. Such are their thoughts. But the Lord in heaven also exercises an influence in the affair. The evangelist remarks, “That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which he spoke, signifying what death he should die.” John has reference here to the words recorded in ch. 12:32, of his Gospel, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me,” adding the explanatory remark, “This he said, signifying what death he should die.”
In the tumultuous assemblage before the governor’s palace at Jerusalem, we are, therefore, unexpectedly aware of a divine intimation respecting the Savior. The counsel of the Eternal Father displays itself, and in its depths a cross is descried for his only-begotten Son, even as it was also in the plans of Satan. For the sake of the symbolical meaning included in it, the accursed tree was selected in the counsels of eternity, as the instrument of the Savior’s death. The brazen serpent in the wilderness, as well as the wave-offering of the tabernacle, early shadowed it forth to the people of God. The crowd which had assembled round Gabbatha, unconsciously aided in realizing it. It now stands erected in history, in the ministry of the Gospel, and in the minds of men, and manifests its wonder-working and attractive influence in an increasing measure, to this hour.
We conclude our meditation, strengthened afresh, as I hope, in the twofold conviction, that our forgiveness unconditionally demanded a vicarious sacrifice, and that the whole of our Lord’s passion can only be properly understood when regarded from such a point of view. We are reasonably astonished at the wisdom of the Almighty, who has so wonderfully solved the greatest of all problems—that of the restoration of a race which had fallen under the curse, to the divine right of sonship, without thereby denying his holiness. This solution is found in the Savior’s obedience and death. Let us adoringly bow the knee to him, and join with thankful hearts in the song of the Church triumphant, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and has redeemed us to God by his blood, out of every kindred and tongue, and people, and nation!”
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