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Tuesday, November 28th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 3

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Verses 1-5

2 Corinthians 3:1-5

I. There is a peculiar writing on the tablet of the Christian's soul. The old covenant, with its precepts and penalties, was engraven upon slabs of stone; but the new covenant, with its gospel and its commandments, is written upon the sensitive and everlasting tablet of the heart.

II. The writing on the tablets of the true Christian's soul is effected for Christ by the Holy Spirit.

III. In writing upon the tablet of hearts, the Spirit of the living God employs men pastors and teachers.

IV. Those upon whose hearts Christ has written are the epistles of Christ: they are Christ's chief means of communicating with the outlying world.

S. Martin, Rain upon the Mown Grass, p. 125.

Verse 2

2 Corinthians 3:2

The Two Ministrations the Law and the Gospel.

I. There is perhaps something that, on the first mention, jars with our feelings in the fact that it was with a perfect knowledge that man could not obey the law, that the Almighty placed him under the law as a covenant. Yet in truth, there is no difficulty but what arises from the forgetfulness of union between the law and the gospel. If the two systems had been altogether detached, the law having no connection with the gospel, there would have existed great cause for wonder at God's having appointed a ministration of condemnation. But when it is remembered that the law was most strikingly introductory to the gospel, so that the covenant of works literally made way for the covenant of grace, all surprise ought to vanish, and all doubt to be removed, as to the institution being consistent with love. From the earliest moment of human apostasy, God's dealing with the fallen had always a reference to the works of atonement; He looked upon the world as a redeemed world, at the very instant of its becoming rebellious.

II. The gospel is a ministration of righteousness. It is, therefore., far surpassing the law in its glory. It is a ministration of righteousness (1) because it is a system which, assuming that man can have no meritorious righteousness of his own, puts man in a position wherein he appropriates the meritorious righteousness of another. (2) Because it proposes to us the righteousness of the High Priest of our profession, as the procuring cause of our acceptance with God. And (3) this gospel, while displaying a perfect righteousness which hath been wrought out for us, insists peremptorily on a righteousness which must be wrought in us by God's Spirit, making our holiness, though it can obtain nothing by way of merit, indispensably necessary by way of preparation. If then the law, though a ministration of condemnation, be glory, does not the gospel, the ministration of righteousness, much more exceed in glory?

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1929.

References: 2 Corinthians 3:2 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 122; C. Morris, Preacher's Lantern, vol. ii., p. 298. 2 Corinthians 3:2 , 2 Corinthians 3:3 . T. J. Crawford, The Preaching of the Cross, p. 215; Outline Sermons to Children, p. 229. 2 Corinthians 3:3 . E. Garbett, Experiences of the Inner Life, p. 84; A. J. Griffith, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi., p. 198. 2 Corinthians 3:4 , 2 Corinthians 3:5 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 31. 2 Corinthians 3:4-18 . F. W. Robertson, Lectures on Corinthians, p. 294. 2 Corinthians 3:5 . Homilist, 3rd series, vol. x., p. 277; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vii., p. 88; W. M. Punshon, Sermons, p. 25.

Verses 4-5

2 Corinthians 3:4-5

The Divine Sufficiency.

I. Here we have a conception of the Christian ministry what it is in its range, in its demands, in its difficulties, and in its trust upon God. The first work is unquestionably that of a preacher of the gospel. It is one message from heaven, a message of love; it is the message of an offended Father, still full of love to the children who have strayed from Him, and whom He would fain recover to Himself. The minister of the new covenant is God's messenger to teach men this. He is an ambassador bound to speak to the utmost of his ability the message which has been entrusted to him, having nothing to do with any other message but this.

II. If this be a correct view of the function of a minister of the gospel, what a very solemn work this work of preaching is! Men are to be led to believe. So that the idea is this, that the one power by which men are to be saved is preaching. We are so accustomed to the thought, we are so familiar with the remarkable power which in all ages has attended preaching, that it does not seem to us perhaps at first sight to be the marvel that it really is that men should be saved by the "foolishness of preaching." By that God means to save men. It is God's method. And what a responsibility must rest upon the preacher! Is it possible to think that preparation can be too careful, that the consecration of heart and mind can be too complete, that the culture of every faculty which God has given can be too perfect, in order that these faculties may be used to bring the force of the gospel to bear upon men's hearts?

III. It is not only, however, in relation to the work itself that the difficulties of the Christian teacher and pastor occur, but in regard to its results; for those results, however men may forget them and slight them, are of the most serious and momentous character. "To the one we are the savour of death unto death, and to the other the savour of life unto life." How could we hear these solemn responsibilities if it were not that "our sufficiency is of God."

J. Guinness Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 321.

Verse 6

2 Corinthians 3:6

Religious Thought and Life of the Age.

I. There is in our age a tendency to greater simplicity of creed. The divines of today would hesitate to lay down, even on cardinal points, strict and narrow lines of orthodoxy; and still more would they shrink from including in any confession of faith a number of other dogmas, which, whether received or not, are not to be regarded as an essential part of the gospel. The feeling is strong, and it is continually growing, that the foundations of Christian fellowship are to be laid in spiritual sympathy rather than in theological agreement, and that all doctrinal formularies should be made as brief and as general as is consistent with the assertion of the grand principles of the Evangelical system.

II. The second tendency to be noted is that towards a truer and broader humanity in our system. I use what may seem the somewhat ambiguous term "humanity" to signify in general the disposition to recognise that a theological system must consider the aspect in which it presents God to man, as well as the coherence of its theory with the Divine government.

The theology of the day does not pretend that the creature can have any claim on the Creator, but it sees what has too often been forgotten, that God must be true to Himself. Confessing the necessary limits to all human investigations, it yet feels that intellectual power has been given in vain, and that there can be no meaning in the gracious invitation of God Himself, "Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord," if the gospel is not to be examined, and its teachings compared with those which God has given us through the conscience. The new tendency leads the preachers to deal with the false religions of the world as Paul dealt with the Athenians, when even their own errors and superstitions were used as stepping-stones up which they might be guided to the knowledge of the true God, and of Jesus Christ whom He had sent. In short, it deals with man as the object of the Divine love after whom God is seeking, and it endeavours, by appeals to the intellect, conscience, and affection, to win him for Christ. What is this but carrying into practice the great principle of the Apostle, who recognises the power of adaptation and tells us that he himself employed it. "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some."

J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 129.

References: 2 Corinthians 3:6 . Plain Sermons by Contributors to " Tracts for the Times, " vol. iv., p. 161; J. Leckie, Sermons at Ibrox, p. 317; T. Lloyd, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 69; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., p. 395; vol. xxvi., p. 24; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 307; J. H. Hitchens, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 360; H. Riley, Ibid., vol. xxxiii., p. 185; R. Bartlett, Ibid., vol. xxxvi., p. 187. 2 Corinthians 3:6-11 . A. J. Parry, Phases of Truth, p. 30. 2 Corinthians 3:7 , 2 Corinthians 3:8 . Sermons on the Catechism, p. 173. 2 Corinthians 3:7-11 . Homilist, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 421; 3rd series, vol. ii. p. 107; Ibid., vol. ix., p. 121.

Verse 8

2 Corinthians 3:8

The Ministry of the Spirit.

I. First among the proofs of Christianity comes the indisputable product of the "ministration of the Spirit," the new society of believers in Christ Jesus, the new world of redeemed and regenerate sons, created and held in its true spiritual orbit by the power of Christ, the Eternal Sun. The ministry of the Holy Ghost issues in a new social organism, which buries the hates of centuries out of sight, lifts purity to absolute supremacy, and makes the love of God and men the ruling passion of life and action.

II. The next most signal evidence of this ministry, in the first and nineteenth centuries alike, is the fulness and overflow of spiritual life consequent upon the descent and gracious indwelling of the Holy Ghost. The Christian society of the New Testament lives in habitual dependence upon an hourly communion with God. The same spirit is alive today.

III. We ought to expect the work of the Holy Spirit to be one of cleansing: an uplifting of the standard of sanctity, and an outflow of conquering holiness. So it was, and so it is.

IV. The first century was the era of universal missionary enterprise. This too is the missionary day the God of all souls has made, and in it we will rejoice and be glad.

V. But one of the most assured evidences of the teaching ministry of the Spirit is the simplification of the problem of religion and the opening up of the treasures of revelation to all men.

VI. Whence comes the rousing of our solicitudes for the social welfare of our fellows, and of the quickening of interest in all measures of social reform? Whence but from that Spirit whose gracious ministration lifted the slave to a seat by the side of his Master at the supper of love?

VII. Add to and penetrate all this work with the life-giving presence of an immortal hope, and you have carried the service of the Spirit to the maximum of effectiveness. Christianity is the rebirth of hope. "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed."

J. Clifford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 296.

References: 2 Corinthians 3:9 . Parker, Hidden Springs, p. 203. 2 Corinthians 3:12 . J. B. Heard, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 46. 2 Corinthians 3:12 , 2 Corinthians 3:13 . L. Campbell, Some Aspects of the Christian Ideal, p. 1.

Verses 12-18

2 Corinthians 3:12-18

Mirrors of Christ.

I. Note first what St. Paul means when he speaks of why Moses put the veil upon his face. You think it was because it was too bright that he did so. Not at all. When his face is shining with most radiance, then it is that he bares it before the assembled multitude. They dread to come near him, but they are persuaded to draw nigh, and with his face shining with the glory that it got from God, he talks to the people; when he has done speaking, he hides his face until he goes in again to speak to the Holy One of Israel; then he takes the veil off, and then it gathers fresh glory, and with this fresh glory he comes out and speaks again to the people. Moses, in his wisdom, judged it well to hide his face in between. The light began to grow shadowy and fade, until he went in again to speak to God. Where the Spirit of the Lord is not, there is slavery at all times, dulness and darkness and stupidity; people must often be left in that condition, just like the old Jews, because they would not make use of it if more was given.

II. As the picture of the sun dwells in the mirror, so the form of Jesus Christ, the idea of Him as we behold Him with unveiled face, dwells in us, as a power, as an indwelling force. The idea that you have drawn from seeing Christ, that is the mirror-form of Christ in your soul, and that is the Spirit dwelling in you and working in you in proportion as you have Him right and hold Him true. Give your souls to the Living One, and He will make them glorious. Let the love of God shine into your hearts and obey it, and then there is no limit to the eternal height to which you should rise, to the eternal breadth to which your souls should go up; nay, there is no limit to the depth into which your souls will be able to pierce the very Divine will of God, which is the universe, which is the life, which is the treasure of all existence.

G. Macdonald, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 33.

References: 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 . A. J. Parry, Phases of Christian Truth, p. 46. 2 Corinthians 3:14 , 2 Corinthians 3:15 . A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, p. 157. 2 Corinthians 3:15 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 281; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 253. 2 Corinthians 3:15 , 2 Corinthians 3:16 . E. M. Goulburn, Thoughts on Personal Religion, p. 284.

Verse 17

2 Corinthians 3:17

Spiritual Liberty.

These words form the climax of the argument contained in the whole of the chapter. Through the chapter Paul puts law and gospel side by side. He shows us that there was a glory attached to the legal dispensation, but that the glory of the gospel far exceeds it in many respects. He notes first that it transcends the law in glory, in that the literal knowledge of the law, as engraven on stone, had no power whatever to affect the heart of the man who read it. The tables of stone had no quickening power in them, but when the law gives place to the gospel, no one can receive it without having wrought, at once, an inward transformation. (2) The Apostle goes further in the seventh verse, for he shows the superiority of the gospel over the law in that, whilst the law was simply a ministry of condemnation, the gospel is a ministry of life. (3) He proceeds a step further, and shows that the gospel has an exceeding glory over the law, in that, while the latter was only temporary, the gospel is for ever. (4) And yet once more the gospel exceeds the law in the matter of its perspicuity. The law was obscure, and the revelation made to man through Moses was dim and indistinct. "Now," says the Apostle, "there is an efficiency in the gospel which the law does not possess. The law found man in bondage, and left him so, only sealing the cords of his captivity; but when the gospel comes it snaps all fetters and leads the man at once into perfect liberty, for where the Spirit of the Lord is that is, where the gospel of Christ is where the law of the Spirit of life is there is liberty. Freedom follows the footsteps of the gospel.

I. This is true among the nations of the earth. Although the liberty mentioned here does not primarily refer to political, or religious, or national liberty, yet, at the same time, national liberty is the inseparable companion of the gospel. Wherever the gospel of the grace of God has free way is preached and accepted there you always find political liberty following in its wake. Liberty is the attendant angel of the gospel. Let God's truth lay hold of any land, and despotism dies. The gospel creates an atmosphere that suffocates a despot; and where it is free it exercises an influence under which slavery of every description is certain to wither.

II. Our text is true in regard to ecclesiasticism. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." Once have the gospel in the heart, and there is a grand rebellion against all the despotism of ecclesiasticism.

III. Our text is specially true in the experience of the individual believer. There is liberty (1) from the bondage of sin, (2) from the entanglements of ceremonialism, (3) liberty of character, (4) liberty in service, (5) liberty in all that the Bible contains.

A. G. Brown, Penny Pulpit, No. 974.

I. I do not find, anywhere in the Bible, that we are warned against too much liberty. In fact, it is almost always those who have felt themselves too shut up and confined, who break out into carelessness of conduct; just as the stopped river, bursting its barrier, runs into the more violent stream. And yet some people seem to me to be afraid of a free gospel. The freeman of the Lord walks in the day. His former sins do not trouble him. They were cancelled the first time he brought them to Christ, and God never rewrites one cancelled line. He has to do with nothing but the sins of the day.

II. The Christian has the commandment of God in his mind, and it is his delight to study and to keep it. But far more than the command, he has the whole will of God. He has studied the commands till he has reached to the spirit of the commands. He has gathered the mind of God. He knows, by a kind of blessed, spiritual intuition, what the will of God would be on any given subject, and he follows it. It is a very grand feeling to be doing God's will. This is what Christ was doing all the time He was on earth. It is the Spirit of the Lord, and "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."

III. Is not the Christian free of the New Jerusalem? And how should things on the surface of this little world bind him? He is on the wing for eternity. These things cannot hold him. He can go down into deep, secret places. His mind is dealing with the mind of eternity. He is free to all the promises of the Lord, for he has the mind of Christ.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 4th series, p. 61.

References: 2 Corinthians 3:17 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i., No. 9; Good Words, vol. iii., pp. 633, 634; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iii., p. 467; Church of England Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 149; J. E. C. Welldon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxv., p. 392; A. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 124.

Verse 18

2 Corinthians 3:18

The Intuition of Faith.

St. Paul says that we, as members of Christ, behold the manifold glory of God as in a glass, as if it were a direct object of sight, and that by beholding it we are changed. It has an assimilating power, and that which makes us capable of its transforming influence is our beholding it "with open face." What, then, is this power of vision, this spiritual sight by which the unseen is visible; in one word, what is faith? It is the power which the Son of God gives us to behold the glory of the Lord. But we are asked, What is this power, this faith which is given us?

I. The controversies of these later ages have committed two evils; they have dethroned the object of faith, and they have degraded faith itself. Faith is something more Divine than disputants believe. Some will have it to be a speculative assent to truths revealed, and some, to correct them, will have it to be a principle of moral action, and others, to set both sides right, join together these two definitions in one, and tell us that faith is a principle of moral action springing out of a speculative assent to truths revealed. As if faith were something partial and fragmentary, the action of half our being; an effect without a cause, or with a cause simply human, and within the natural endowments of the human intelligence. Surely all these alike, if not equally, come short of truth. We might as well say that sight is a belief of things seen, or that sight is action arising out of a belief in what we see. What are these but the effects of sight demanding and pointing to a cause? They are the consequences of sight, not sight itself. As our waking sense checks our irregular thoughts and subjects us to the conditions of the world we see, so faith brings the whole spiritual nature of man under the dominion and laws of the unseen kingdom of God. This supernatural gift was infused into us as a habit by the Spirit of God, but in its acting it depends upon our will.

II. A clear intuition is the very life of the consciousness of God and of His kingdom. And this clear intuition of the heart is to be attained only by habitual self-examination and penitent confession made under the eyes in which the heavens are unclean. The next condition essential to beholding the glory of the Lord is a habitual use of spiritual exercises, such as meditation and prayer, whether mental or in words, and the like. By spiritual exercise is meant specially, an exercise of the will awakening the consciousness of our spiritual life. The whole catholic faith, the worship of the Church, the discipline of spiritual life through devotions and sacraments, has no existence for us, until we have united our spiritual consciousness with them by acts of faith and of the will. And the last and highest means of perfecting the gift of faith is to exercise it habitually upon the real presence of our blessed Lord in the Sacrament of His body and of His blood. For this very end it was ordained, that when He should withdraw His visible presence, He might still abide with us unseen; that when He ceased to be an object of sight, He might become an object of faith; and that the spiritual consciousness of our hearts should there for ever meet with the reality of His presence.

H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 369.

Transformation by Beholding.

I. The Christian life is a life of contemplating and reflecting Christ. Note (1) Paul's emphasis on the universality of the vision " We all. " (2) This contemplation involves reflection, or giving forth the light which we behold.

II. This life of contemplation is a life of gradual transformation. The brightness on the face of Moses was only skin-deep. It faded away and left no trace. It effaced none of the marks of sorrow and care, and changed none of the lines of the strong, stern face. But, says Paul, the glory which we behold sinks inward, and changes us, as we look, into its own image. Thus the superficial lustre, that had neither permanence nor transforming power, becomes an illustration of the powerlessness of law to change the moral character into the likeness of the fair ideal which it sets forth. And in opposition to its weakness, the Apostle proclaims the great principle of Christian progress, that the beholding of Christ leads to the assimilation to Him.

III. The life of contemplation finally becomes a life of complete assimilation. Christ's true image is that we should feel as He does, should think as He does, should will as He does; that we should have the same sympathies, the same loves, the same attitude towards God and the same attitude towards men. The whole nature must be transformed and made like Christ's, and the process will not stop till that be accomplished in all who love Him. But the beginning here is the main thing, which draws all the rest after it as of course.

A. Maclaren, Sermons in Manchester, 3rd series, p. 77.

The Gift of the Spirit.

I. Some insight is given into the force of the word "glory" as our present privilege, by considering the meaning of the title "kingdom of heaven," which has also belonged to the Church since Christ came. The Church is called by this name as being the court and domain of Almighty God, who retreated from the earth, as far as His kingly presence was concerned, when man fell. Not that He left Himself without witness in any age; but even in His most gracious manifestations, still He conducted Himself as if in an enemy's country, "as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night." But when Christ had reconciled Himself to His fallen creatures, He returned according to the prophecy "I will dwell in them and walk in them; I will set My sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore." From that time there has really been a heaven upon earth, in fulfilment of Jacob's vision. Since the Christian Church is a heaven upon earth, it is not surprising that in some sense or other its distinguishing privilege or gift should be glory, for this is the one attribute which we ever attach to our notion of heaven itself, according to the Scripture intimations concerning it. The glory here may be conceived of by considering what we believe of the glory hereafter.

II. Next, if we consider the variety and dignity of the gifts ministered by the Spirit, we shall perhaps discern in a measure why our state under the gospel is called a state of glory. The Holy Ghost has taken up His abode in the Church in a variety of gifts, as a sevenfold Spirit. The gift is denoted in Scripture by the vague and mysterious term "glory," and all the descriptions we can give of it can only, and should only, run out into a mystery.

III. It were well if these views were more understood and received among us. They would, under God's blessing, put a stop to much of the enthusiasm which prevails on all sides, while they might tend to dispel the cold and ordinary notions of religion which are the opposite extreme. For ourselves, in proportion as we realise the higher view of the subject, which we may humbly trust is the true one, let us be careful to act up to it. Let us adore the sacred presence within us with all fear, and rejoice with trembling. Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, good works and alms deeds, a bold and true confession and a self-denying walk, are the ritual of worship by which we serve Him in these His temples. As we persevere in them the inward light grows brighter and brighter, and God manifests Himself to us in a way that the world knows not of. In this, then, consists our whole duty, first in contemplating Almighty God, as in heaven, so in our hearts and souls; and next, while we contemplate Him, in acting towards and for Him in the works of every day; in viewing by faith His glory without and within us, and in acknowledging it by our obedience. Thus we shall unite conceptions the most lofty concerning His majesty and bounty towards us, with the most lowly, minute, and unostentatious service to men.

J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. iii., p. 254.

I. The Picture. "We all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord ." The glory of God in Christ, or the excellence and beauty of the Divine nature and purpose as they are revealed in the gospel that is the picture on which we are invited to gaze. Jesus Christ is the brightness of God's glory. He honours law and expresses love. His death is the centre of universal harmony. His resurrection is victory over hell and death. His ascension opens immortality and heaven. His Second Coming is the hope, as it will be the joy and triumph, of every loving heart.

II. The Beholders. We are all beholding. "We," Christians, that is. The whole context requires this interpretation. There is a sense, no doubt, in which it may be said, that all who have heard of the Lord Jesus Christ, so as to have anything like correct views of His person and character, are beholders of God's glory in Him. All Christendom, in this sense, stands beholding. Even heathen lands are turning to gaze. Light from the great picture streams over Christendom, penetrates the darkness of heathendom, and men cannot but look towards a vision so bright and beautiful. But it is the doctrine of this, and many other passages in the New Testament, that a new sense is needed, what may be called a new soul-sense, by which to apprehend and appreciate spiritual things.

III. The Transformation. We are changed into the same image, changed as we gaze. We gaze and become like that which we behold, like Him whom we love. The spiritual apprehension we have, the vivid appreciative faculty within us, transfers to us and fixes upon our souls the beauty we behold. This is a truth acknowledged by philosophy and everywhere recognised in the word of God. By perceiving we become. By knowledge, spiritual, apprehensive knowledge, we grow in grace.

IV. The author and finisher of this transformation is the blessed Spirit of God "Even as by the Spirit of the Lord." He reveals the picture, He clarifies the eye, He vitalises the spiritual law, and He dwells in the soul. He changes and watches the great work from birth to perfection. He takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto us. He leads us out of all our darkness into the realm of gospel light and glory, where we are transfigured as we stand.

A. Raleigh, Quiet Resting Places, p. 123.

References: 2 Corinthians 3:18 . Good Words, vol. iii., pp. 636, 639; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iii., p. 217; J. Clifford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxv., p. 121; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines of Sermons, p. 392; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 94; E. Paxton Hood, Sermons, p. 356. 2 Corinthians 4:1 . T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 242; Ray, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 17. 2 Corinthians 4:1-15 . F. W. Robertson, Lectures on Corinthians, p. 301.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/2-corinthians-3.html.
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