Sermon: Christian Victory

23 mins read

Editor’s note: The following sermon by Christopher Newman Hall is extracted from The World’s Great Sermons, Vol. 6 (published 1908).

To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. – Rev. ii., 17.

The Christian life is often compared in Scripture to a warfare. Followers of Jesus are “soldiers.” They are exhorted to put on “the whole armor of God.” They “fight the good fight of faith.” Some of you have been engaged in the conflict: others have more recently entered upon it. But, whether young or old in the Christian career, all find it necessary to be constantly stirred up to watchfulness against the never-ceasing assaults of the foe. It is not enough to put on the armor and to commence the battle. He that overcometh, and he alone, will receive the salutation, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” — he alone shall “lay hold upon eternal life.”

But we are not left to fight without encouragement. As generals before a battle go in front of their troops to stimulate them to valor, so Christ, the Captain of our Salvation, leads on the consecrated hosts of His elect; and having Himself set us a glorious example of valor and victory, animates us to follow in His footsteps by the “exceeding great and precious promises” of His word. Christian warrior! let your eye be lifted up to Him. Behold Him beckoning you onward. Listen to Him, as from His throne of glory He exhorts you to persevering valor against the foe; and pray earnestly that His promise may be fulfilled in your case: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”

Let us consider first, the promise; then, the condition attached to it.

I . The promise. This is twofold, — the hidden manna and the white stone.

1. The hidden manna. — God fed the Israelites in the wilderness with manna. A portion of this was laid by in the ark, and thus was hidden from public view. It is here referred to as a figurative representation of the spiritual blessings bestowed upon the victor in the heavenly fight. Christ, speaking of the manna as a type of Himself, said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” The manna in the wilderness sustained the life of the Israelites.

But there is another life more important than that of the body. By sin the soul is dead, dead toward God. By the Holy Spirit, the “dead in trespasses and sins” are “quickened,” or made alive. As the life of the new-born infant cannot be preserved without food, so the new spiritual life which God imparts needs continual support. Both the life, and the nourishing of it, come from Christ, and Christ alone. By His sacrifice that life becomes possible; and by His spirit working within our hearts that life becomes actual. He sustains as well as imparts spiritual vitality. He is the food of our faith: “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” He is the food of our love: “we love him because He first loved us.” He is the food of our obedience: “the love of Christ constraineth us.” He is the food of our peace: for when “justified by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” He is the food of our joy: for if “we joy in God” it is “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The manna which sustained the Israelites was evidently the gift of God. And so this “hidden manna” is from heaven. It is no contrivance of man — no philosophy of human invention. It is a divine plan for the salvation of our ruined race. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but should have everlasting life.” That manna in the wilderness was sweet to the taste; yet they who fed on it grew weary of it. But the more we eat of the bread of life, the more we relish it — the greater is our appetite for it. That manna in the wilderness was needed daily. And so with this heavenly bread. Yesterday’s supply will not suffice for today. The prayer is as needful for the soul as for the body: “Give us this day our daily bread.” But if that manna was needed daily, so it was supplied; none went in vain at the appointed season — and no soul that “hungers and thirsts after righteousness” is sent empty away. The manna was supplied to the Israelites till they came to the promised land — so God has promised that His grace shall not fail His people through their wanderings.

It is spoken of as the “hidden manna.” Such is the Christian’s life. “Our life is hid with Christ in God.” The outward effects of it may be seen, but the inner life is invisible. So is the nourishing of the life. You may see the Christian on his knees, you may hear the words which he utters, but you cannot see the streams of divine influence which are poured into his spirit; nor hear the sweet whispers of divine love which fill him with joy; nor comprehend the peace passing all understanding which he is permitted to experience. Unbelievers are often amazed at what they see in the Christian. He is troubled on every side, yet not in despair. Waves of sorrow beat upon his frail vessel, yet it does not sink. Men now threaten, now allure, but he holds on his way. What to others is an irresistible charm, is no attraction to him. What is a terror to others, deters not him. Why does he not faint beneath the burden? why does he not sink in the storm? Because he eats of the “hidden manna.” “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” “He hath taken him into his banqueting-room, and the banner over him is love.”

Were this promise merely the reward of final victory, that victory itself would never be gained. We need to eat this manna during our pilgrimage. We cannot live without it. Every act of overcoming will be followed by a verification of the promise, “I will give him to eat of the hidden manna.” Yet we must look beyond the present life for its full accomplishment. “To him that overcometh” at the last “shall be given the hidden manna,” in a sense of which at present we have but a very faint conception .

As the manna was hidden in the ark, and that ark was hidden behind the curtain of the Holy of Holies, so the Christian’s hope, “as an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast, enters into that which is within the veil.” Those joys we cannot yet conjecture; their splendor is too intense; we should be blinded by excessive light; we should be overpowered by the excellent glory.

One look of heaven would unfit us for earth. It is wisely appointed that at present this manna should in one sense be hidden, even from ourselves. We are as yet but babes such strong meat would not suit us now; we must be content with simpler fare. But oh! if the manna, though at present so partially and imperfectly appreciated, can produce such peace and joy, what must be the bliss of entering into the holiest of all, and there, in the presence of God Himself, feasting on it eternally! Unceasing , unlimited reception of divine influences into the soul!

Uninterrupted fellowship with Him who is the only fountain of life, and purity, and happiness! Perfect love! But at present such full fruition is “hidden.” “Now we see through a glass darkly”; “now we know but in part”; “it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” But how unspeakably blest are they to whom, partially in this world and perfectly in the next, the promise shall be verified: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna”!

2 . The white stone. — Reference is made to the tessera hospitalis, the tally or token of hospitality employed by the ancients. At a time when houses of public entertainment were less common, private hospitality was the more necessary. When one person was received kindly by another, or a contract of friendship was entered into, the tessera was given. It was so named from its shape, being four-sided; it was sometimes of wood; sometimes of stone; it was divided into two by the contracting parties; each wrote his own name on half of the tessera; then they exchanged pieces, and therefore the name or device on the piece of tessera which each received, was the name the other person had written upon it, and which no one else knew but him who received it. It was carefully prized, and entitled the bearer to protection and hospitality .

Plautus, in one of his plays, refers to this custom. Hanno inquires of a stranger where he may find Agorastocles, and discovers to his surprise that he is addressing the object of his search.

“If so,” he says, “compare, if you please, this hospitable tessera; here it is; I have it with me.”

Agorastocles replies, “It is the exact counterpart; I have the other part at home.”

Hanno responds, “O my friend! I rejoice to meet thee; thy father was my friend, my guest; I divided with him this hospitable tessera.” “Therefore,” said Agorastocles, “thou shalt have a home with me, for I reverence hospitality.”

Beautiful illustration of gospel truth! The Savior visits the sinner’s heart, and being received as a guest, bestows the white stone, the token of His unchanging love. It is not we who in the first instance desire this compact. Far from it.

But Jesus, anxious to bless us, kindly forces Himself on our regard. By His spirit, He persuades us to give Him admission to our hearts. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” We often disregarded His appeal. Yet, with what condescending kindness did He persevere! And when at length we opened the door, we saw Him laden with blessings which He had been long waiting to bestow. The feast which was then spread was all of His providing. He who went to be “the guest of one that was a sinner,” inverts the usual course. He invites Himself and brings the feast. What have we fit to set before so august and holy a visitant? But He who chooses the sinner’s heart as His banqueting-chamber, spreads there His choicest gifts, His exceeding great and precious promises, His finished sacrifice, His human sympathy, His perfect example, His pure precepts, His all-prevailing intercession, the various developments of His infinite love.

He “sups with us,” and makes us “sup with Him.” He enrolls our name among His friends. “He makes an everlasting covenant with us, ordered in all things and sure.” He promises never to leave nor forsake us. He tells us we “shall never perish.” He gives us the tessera, the white stone!

Is not this “the witness of the Spirit,” the “earnest of the promised possession”? Does not “the Spirit witness with our spirit that we are born of God”? Does not our experience of the friendship of Jesus correspond with what we are taught of it in the Scriptures? “I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him, against that day.” The “love of God is shed abroad” in the heart of the believer. He says, with humble confidence, “My Lord, and my God!”

On this white stone is inscribed a “new name.” The part of the tessera which each of the contracting parties received contained the name of the other. And, therefore, “the new name” on the “white stone,” which he that overcometh receives, is that of Him who gives. By the unbeliever, God is known as Power, as Majesty, as Justice. He is dreaded. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” The Christian alone knows Him as “Love!” Jehovah has now “a new name.” He was once a ruler — now He is Friend; He was once judge — now He is Father.

Do you know God by His “new name”? Do you so know Him as to wish no longer to hide from Him, but to hide in Him, as the only home the universe can furnish in which you can be safe and happy? Have you learned to say, “Our Father which art in heaven”? If we have, indeed, received this “white stone,” let us continually be reading the “new name” engraven on it. Here I am assured that the Holy Ghost is my teacher, my guide, my comforter; that the eternal Word, the only begotten Son, is my Savior, my Friend, my Brother; that the infinite Jehovah is my Father, and that “like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.”

We are told that no man knoweth this new name, “saving he that receiveth it.” He knows it for himself, but no one else can read it for him. Thus it resembles the “hidden manna.” The frivolous may deride, fools may mock, the unbeliever may deny, the sceptic may bring forth his objections in all the pride of a false philosophy; but the Christian, even if unable to reply to the caviller, or to make intelligible to any other mind his own strong assurance, has an evidence within him which nothing can shake, for God has written on his heart “His new best name of Love.”

Fellow pilgrims to the heavenly Canaan, how precious is this token! We are travelers through the desert; for though the enjoyments of earth are many, yet this life, compared with what is to come, is a wilderness. We are away from home; we are exposed to privations, tempests, foes; we constantly need a refuge. But we are never far from the house of a friend. Everywhere, in every city and in every village, on the desert and on the ocean, in the solitude of secrecy, and in the solitude of a crowd, in the bustle of business, and in the sick chamber, a Friend is at hand, who will always recognize the white stone He gave us, a token of His love. We have only to present it to claim the fulfilment of His promise .

How wide will the door be thrown open for our reception! What divine entertainment we shall receive! what safety from peril! what succor in difficulty! what comfort in trouble! what white raiment! what heavenly food! O that we valued the tessera more, that we sought more frequent interviews with our heavenly Friend, that we more habitually resorted as invited guests to Jesus, and dwelt in Him as the home of our souls! We shall never find the door closed against us; we shall never be received reluctantly; He will never allow us to think that we are intruders. Jesus is never ashamed of His poor relations, nor treats them coldly because they need His help. The greater our distress, the more shall we prove His liberality and tender sympathy.

And as regards this stone, as well as the hidden manna, we can look beyond the present life. A day is coming when we shall be compelled to leave the homes of earth, however endeared. We must embrace for the last time the friends united to us as our own souls. Though we have traveled along the road many a year together, we must now separate, and go alone. They may accompany us to the river side, but we must cross it by ourselves. What cheering voice will greet us then? What kind roof will receive us then? What loving friend will welcome us then?

But we shall not have left our best treasure behind us! No! we shall carry the white stone with us; and with this we shall look for no inferior abode, but with unhesitating step shall advance at once right up to the palace of the Great King. We present the tessera; the “new name” is legible upon it; the angelic guards recognize the symbol; the everlasting gates lift up their heads; and the voice of Jesus Himself invites us to enter, saying, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom!”

Such is the welcome that every soul shall experience to whom the promise is fulfilled: “I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it.”

II . The condition annexed to the promise, “To him that overcometh!”

A great war is going on between the Church and the powers of darkness. It is not an affair of strategy between two vast armies, wherein skilful maneuvers determine the issue, many on either side never coming into actual combat; but every Christian has to fight hand to hand with the enemy. We cannot be lost in the crowd. We may not stand in the middle of the hollow square, without sharing the perils of the outer rank. Every Christian must not only occupy his post in the grand army, but must personally grapple with the foe .

Before conversion there was no fighting. The devil’s suggestions and the heart’s inclination were allied. Then we did the enemy’s bidding, or were lulled to sleep by his intoxicating cup. But when light shone into the soul, and we strove to escape, the struggle began. God, as our Creator and Redeemer, justly demands our obedience and love. Whatever interferes with these claims, is an enemy summoning us to battle. The world of frivolity is our foe. How numerous and insinuating are its temptations — the more perilous because of the difficulty of defining them!

Moreover, lawful pleasures and necessary cares become dangerous when they cease to be subordinate to the love of God. The enjoyments He bestows and the labors He appoints are calculated to minister to godliness, — and yet they may be perverted to idolatry by our forgetting Him on whom our highest thoughts should be fixt. What danger is there that things in themselves holy and beautiful may thus become pernicious and destructive!

The flesh, too, furnished its contingent to the army of our foes. Not that any of our natural appetites, being divinely bestowed, can have in them the nature of sin. No! the flesh, as God made it, is pure and holy. But those instincts, which, regulated by the revealed will of their Author, are “holiness to the Lord,” may, by unhallowed gratification, become those “fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” As we carry about with us these animal propensities, there is necessity for constant vigilance lest our own nature, being abused, should become our destroyer.

Inbred depravity lurks in the heart of even the true believer. Though dethroned, it is not completely expelled. With what selfishness, covetousness, vanity, hastiness of temper, uncharitableness, have we not to contend! Who has not some sin which most easily besets him? How varied are the forms of unbelief! Spiritual pride, too, corrupts our very graces, piety itself furnishing an occasion of evil, so that when we have conquered some temptation or performed some duty, our victory is often tarnished, our holy things corrupted, by our falling into the snare of self-complacency.

Above all, there is that great adversary who “goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” He avails himself of the world, and the flesh, and the infirmities of the spirit, to tempt the soul of sin. This is no fable, although one of Satan’s most skilful stratagems is to make men disbelieve in his existence. Overlooked or despised, a foe is already half victorious. But the Captain of our Salvation, in His word, often warns us both of the craft and of the violence of our adversary. We sometimes read of “the wiles of the devil”; and sometimes of “the fiery darts of the wicked one.” They who fail to watch and pray, are sure to be vanquished by such a foe.

These are our enemies! And if we would possess the promise we must “overcome.” A mere profession of religion is of no avail. It is not enough for our name to appear on the muster-roll of the camp. Many wear the soldier’s dress who know nothing of the soldier’s heart. Many are glad to glitter on the grand parade who fall off from the hard fought, blood-stained battlefield. It is not enough to buckle on our armor; many do this, and lay it aside again. We must devote ourselves to this great daily battle of life.

There is no exemption of persons. Women must fight, as well as men; the tender and timid must be as Amazons in the conflict. Children must carry the shield, and wield the sword. The aged and infirm must keep the ranks. The sick and wounded must not be carried to the rear. No substitute can be provided, and there is no discharge in this war.

There is no exemption on account of circumstances. The rich and poor, the learned and the unlearned, the cheerful and the sad, all must fight. No accumulation of trouble, no unexpected death of friends, can be an excuse for laying down our arms. We must go to the marriage feast, and we must attend the funeral procession, as warriors, wearing our armor and grasping our weapons. We must be like those spoken of by Nehemiah, “every man with one hand wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.”

There is no exemption of place. Foes lie in wait for the Christian wherever he goes — in the mart of commerce, in the busy workshop, when he returns to his home, when he rests on his bed, in the bustle of the day, in the silence of the night, in the circle of his friends, in the bosom of his family, in society, alone, in the city, in the fields, in his walks of benevolence, in his private meditations, in the church, in his secret retirement, when he worships with the great congregation, and when he enters his closet and shuts the door. He can never elude the enemy; he carries the foe in his own breast; the conflict ceases not!

There is no exemption of time, no season of rest. No truce is sounded. Satan never beats a retreat, except to lead us into an ambuscade. No white flag comes out that can be trusted. If we parley it is at our peril; if we pause, we are wounded or taken captive. Wars on earth may often terminate by mutual agreement. It is a war of extermination; no quarter is given; either we must trample Satan under foot, or Satan will drag us down to hell!

It is a warfare until death. While we are in the body it will be always true — “We wrestle.” The oldest Christian cannot lay aside his weapons. “Having done all, stand.” A great word that! “Having done all!” “What!” you may say, “after a long life of conflict, surely I may put aside my armor, and sheathe my sword, and recline on some sunny bank, and enjoy myself after my victory!”

No; you must not expect it; “having done all” it is enough if you stand at bay on the battle-ground; all you can hope for in this world is to maintain your post, still defying the foe, who will be still meditating fresh attacks. You will never be able to say with St. Paul, “I have finished my course.”

It is not the appearance of fighting. It is not a few faint, irresolute strokes. “So fight I,” said the Apostle, “not as one that beateth the air.” We must be resolute, determined, in earnest, giving our enemy no advantage. We must “not give place to the devil.” We must watch against the smallest beginnings of sin. By “keeping the heart with all diligence,” by putting on “the whole armor of God, “by having faith as our shield, righteousness as our breastplate, the hope of salvation as our helmet,” by keeping “the sword of the Spirit” bright with exercise, “praying with all prayer,” standing near our Captain, looking to Him, relying upon Him, knowing that “without Him we can do nothing,” — so must we fight! All this is necessary, if we would overcome.

It is not so easy to fight this fight as some suppose. It is not a true faith merely, an evangelical creed, a scriptural church, a comfortable sermon once or twice a week, a little Sabbath-keeping, an agreeable pause in your pleasures, giving to them a new relish — it is not this which constitutes Christianity. You that think religion so very easy a thing, have a care at least, lest when too late, you find that you know not what true religion meant .

Easy? A depraved being to trample upon his lusts — a proud being to lie prostrate with humility and self-reproach — they that are “slow of heart to believe,” to receive the gospel as little children?

Easy? To “crucify the flesh,” “to deny ungodliness,” “to cut off a right hand, and to pluck out a right eye”?

Easy? To be in the world, and yet not of the world — to come out from it, not by the seclusion of the cloister, but by holiness of life — to be diligent in its duties, yet not absorbed by them; appreciating its innocent delights, and yet not ensnared by them; be holding its attractions and yet rising superior to them?

Easy? To live surrounded by objects which appeal to the sight, and yet to endure as seeing what is invisible?

Easy? To pray and see no answer to prayer, and still pray on — to fight this battle, and find fresh foes ever rising up, yet still to fight on — to be harassed with doubts and fears, and yet walk on in darkness, though we see no light, staying ourselves upon God?

Easy? To be preparing for a world we have never visited, in opposition to so much that is captivating in a world where we have always dwelt, whose beauties we have seen, whose music we have heard, whose pleasures we have experienced?

Easy? To resist that subtle foe who has cast down so many of the wise and the mighty?

Easy? When Jesus says it is a “strait gate,” and that if we would enter we must “strive,” bidding us “take up our cross daily, deny ourselves and follow him”? Ah! it is no soft flowery meadow, along which we may languidly stroll, but a rough, craggy cliff that we must climb. “To him that overcometh!” It is no smooth, placid stream, along which we may dreamily float, but a tempestuous ocean we must stem . “To him that overcometh!” It is no easy lolling in a cushioned chariot, that bears us on without fatigue and peril. The trumpet has sounded to arms; it is not peace, but war, war for liberty, war for life, on the issue of which our everlasting destiny depends! If we are to be saved, we must “overcome.”

But though the conflict is arduous, the encouragements are great. We have armor of proof. We have a mighty Champion. Victory is ensured to the brave. Others who stood on the same battlefield and fought with the same enemies, are now enjoying an eternal triumph. Not one faithful warrior ever perished. Their foes were not fewer than ours, their strength was not greater. They overcame by the same “blood of the Lamb” on which we rely.

“Once they were mourning here below,
And wet their couch with tears;
They wrestled hard, as we do now,
With sins, and doubts, and fears.”

But they are wearing their crowns, they are enjoying their rest; and the feeblest and most unworthy of our own day, trusting in the same Savior, shall inherit the same promise. Then let us overcome. Sheathe not the sword, and it shall never be wrested from you; lay not down the shield, and no fiery dart shall ever penetrate it; face the foe, and he shall never trample you down, never drive you back .

Listen to your Captain; how He animates you onward! Look to the crown He is ready to bestow upon you; eat of the hidden manna which He gives; read the name in the “white stone,” — the name of God, His name of love, recorded for your encouragement; and thus be animated to walk worthy of this holy alliance, and not to allow the foe to wrench from you such an assurance of divine favor, such a passport to heavenly bliss .

A little more conflict, and that “white stone” shall introduce you to the inheritance above, where, in the everlasting repose of the inner sanctuary, you shall without intermission eat of the hidden manna.

“Then let my soul march boldly on,
Press forward to the heavenly gate;
There peace and joy eternal reign,
And glittering robes for conquerors wait.”

Some of you may consider this subject visionary and unreal. You say, “I know nothing of this warfare. I know what the conflict of business is, the race of fashion, the bustle of toil or pleasure; but to anxiety about spiritual things I am a stranger.”

You are enjoying peace — but — what peace? There is a captive in a dungeon —his limbs are fast chained to the walls — yet he is singing songs. How is it? Satan has given him to drink of his drugged cup, and he does not know where he is. Look at that other. He says, “it is peace.” There is truly no fighting, but he is groveling in the dust, and the heel of his foe is upon his neck. Such is the peace of every one going on in his wickedness, unpardoned and unsaved. “Taken captive by the devil at his will.”

Chained in Satan’s boat, you are swiftly gliding down the stream to ruin, and because it is smooth, you dream that it is safe! What is the difference between the saint and the sinner? Not that in the saint there is no sin. Not that in the sinner there is never a thought about God. The difference is this — that the saint is overcoming his sin; but the sin is overcoming the sinner. Oh, what a terrible thing if sin have the upper hand! No “hidden manna” is yours. The symbols of religion you may look at, but real religion must be a stranger to you. You know not its enjoyment. You do not taste it. It is a hidden thing. Heaven too will be hidden. You hear of its gates of pearl — but they will never open to you. You may catch the distant accents of its songs — but in those songs you will never join. And that “white stone” cannot be yours. You have no joyful anticipation of heaven but a fearful looking-for of fiery indignation — or else the insensate resolve not to think at all. And the “new name” — no! you cannot read it! You know God by no such name as makes you seek His company. The thought of Him renders you unhappy, and therefore you banish it from your mind. You are not now alarmed, but soon the spell may be broken, and you may find the chains riveted upon your soul forever .

I fancy I hear you say, “I wish that before it is too late, I could escape! But mine is a hopeless case. My heart is hardened against the gospel, and evil habit has so got the mastery over me, that I have no power to begin this conflict!”

No, you have no power; but One has visited this world, and taken our nature, who can help you. The mighty Son of God became the suffering Son of Man that He might be the liberator of our enslaved race. He burst open the prison doors, that captive souls might escape. He stands near you, ready to break off your fetters and strengthen you to fight the enemy who has so long oppressed you. Tell Him your simple but sad tale; how helpless, how miserable, how ruined you are! Tell Him you want to be saved, but know not how to begin the work, and ask Him both to begin and complete it for you! Let your prayer be this: “Be merciful to me, a sinner”; and He who “came to destroy the works of the devil,” He “whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive,” will receive your “humble petitions; and though you be tied and bound with the chain of your sins, He, in the pitifulness of His great mercy, will loose you.”

He will pardon your past shameful concessions to the foe, and, arraying you in “the whole armor of God,” and animating you with His Holy Spirit, He will enable you so to fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil, that you also shall share in the prize of them that overcome; you also shall eat of the “hidden manna,” and receive the “white stone.”

Christopher Newman Hall (1816-1902)

Raised in a home filled with books on Western civilization, P.G. Mantel became a lover of history at an early age. An amateur writer of verse, he makes himself useful as an editor for Men of the West.

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