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Complete Works of Thomas Manton, D.D. Vol. VIII.
« Prev Sermon CLVIII. I am small and despised; yet do I… Next »

SERMON CLVIII.

I am small and despised; yet do I not forget thy precepts.—Ver. 141.

HERE David proveth the truth of his former assertion, that seeing the word of God was so pure, he loved it for its own sake, and that he did not court religion for the portion that he should have with it, but for itself. Some are mere mercenaries; no longer than they are bribed by some worldly profit, have they any respect for God and his ways. The man of God was of another temper. If God would bestow any thing on him, well; if not, he would love his word still; yea, when it brought him apparent loss, meanness, and contempt, yet this could not make any divorce between his heart and the word: ‘I am small and despised,’ &c.

In the words we have—(1.) David’s condition; (2.) David’s carriage under that condition. His condition might have been a snare to him, yet still he keepeth up his affection.

1. His condition is set forth by two notions, the one of which implieth the other. God’s providence, ‘I am small.’ God had reduced him to straits. The other, man’s treatment of him, ‘and despised.’ The one showeth what he was really in himself, the other what he was in the opinion of others: mean in himself, and contemptible in the eye of others. The Septuagint has, νεώτερος ἐγώ εἰμι καὶ ἐξουδενωμένος—I am the younger, and set at nought; therefore the Greek interpreters suppose it relateth to the story where God bids Samuel to anoint one of the sons of Jesse to be king, and the elder children were brought forth, who were taller, and more likely too; and they said of them, Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him; and when Samuel inquired for another, they told him, 1 Sam. xvi. 7, ‘That there remaineth the youngest, and he keepeth sheep;’ then, when he was but a youth, and a despised stripling, his heart was with God, and God favoured him. Or else they refer it to the time when Eliab his eldest brother despised him, 1 Sam. xvii. 28. Others think this was verified when the elders of Israel forsook him, and clave to Absalom. Bather I think it general to any afflicted condition, when he was little in estate and reputation, rather than in years; elsewhere so is this word ‘small’ taken: Arnos vii. 25, ‘Jacob is small; by whom shall he arise?’ when his condition was helpless and hopeless, and interest inconsiderable in the world. So here: ‘I am small and despised;’ I am looked upon as a man of no value and interest.

2. David’s carriage under this condition, ‘Yet do I not forget thy precepts.’ First, here is a μείωσις; less is said, more is intended: I do earnestly remember them. Again, a man may be said to remember or forget two ways—notionally or affectively. Notionally, a man forgets when the notions of things formerly known are quite vanished out of his mind; affectively, when, though he retaineth the notions, yet he is not answerably affected, he doth not act suitably. So it is taken here, and implieth as much as I am steadfast in the profession of this truth: as they say in a like case, Ps. xliv. 17, ‘We have not forgotten thee, nor dealt falsely in thy covenant;’ not parted with any point of truth, or neglected and dispensed with any part of duty. ‘Precepts’ is put for the whole word of God: ‘I do not forget thy word,’ the comforts and duties of it. None do so far forget God and his precepts as those that make defection from him. The sum of all is, My mean and despicable condition doth not make a breach upon my constancy, but still I keep the credit of being a faithful servant to thee. His temptation was double. His faithfulness had made him small (God seemeth to forget us in our low estate, yet we should not forget him), and had made him despised. Though we lose esteem with men by sticking to the word of God, yet the word of God should lose no esteem with us.

Doct. They that love God may be reduced to a mean, low, and afflicted condition. ‘I am small,’ saith David. The Lord seeth it meet for divers reasons.

1. That they may know their happiness is not in this world, and so the more long for heaven and delight in heavenly things: Ps. xvii. 14, 15, ‘From men of the world, which have their portion in this life: as for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness.’ Christ gave his Spirit to the rest of the disciples, and the purse to Judas; he had the keeping of the bag, that was the worst. God’s dearest children usually have the least in this world, that they may look higher; as Levi had no portion among his brethren, because God would be his portion. Others have more plentiful accommodations for back and belly; they are better clad, their tables more plentifully furnished and supplied, larger portions for their children. They that look to save anything or get anything by religion but the saving of their souls are foully mistaken; if we have more than others, religion calleth for more disbursements. Charity and liberal distributions exposeth to troubles; religion moderateth our desires, and forbids all unjust ways of acquiring wealth, calleth upon us to forsake all for a good conscience. Therefore they that follow Christ out of a design to be rich in this world, lose their aim. Not but that hypocrites sometimes make a market of religion, but then God is angry, and they, and the church too, pay for it at last: not but that religion bringeth in temporal supplies: Mat. vi. 33, ‘First seek the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you,’ ταῦτα πάντα προστεθήσεται; food and raiment it bringeth in. God may give some a more plentiful allowance; especially if they be faithful stewards, then they are intrusted with more; but generally they are mean and small, or if they have more of this world’s goods, they have their afflictions in other kinds.

2. It is necessary to cut off the provisions of the flesh and the fuel of their lusts. A rank soil breedeth weeds, and when we sail with a full stream we are apt to be carried away with it. We either glut our selves with the pleasures of the flesh, or grow proud, and hanker and linger after the pomp and vanities of the world, and neglect God. And therefore God is fain to diet us, and to keep us bare and low; as he is said to cut Israel short, 2 Kings x. 32, when he straitened their coasts and borders. So for our cure we need not only internal grace to abate the lust, but external providence to catch away the prey and bait by which it is fed. The wise man saith not only, Give me grace, but ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches,’ Prov. xxx. 8, 9; and Gal. vi. 14, ‘By whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world.’ Both parts are necessary. Riches are a great temptation; we would root here, and grow sensual, worldly, and proud, if God did not snatch our comforts from us, when we are apt to surfeit of them. A plentiful portion of temporal things is spiritually dangerous.

3. That they may be more sensible of his displeasure against their sins and scandalous carriage, by which they have dishonoured him and provoked the pure eyes of his glory. Never have scandals fallen out but some great woe followed: Mat. xviii. 7, ‘Woe to the world, because of offences.’ Therefore God hath brought his people low that he may vindicate his name, which through their means is blasphemed, Rom. ii. 24, and make his people sensible of their sin. The world shall know that he doth allow sin no more in them than in others; and therefore, though they were as the signet upon his finger, he will pluck them off, and make them feel the smart of their wanderings: Amos iii. 2, ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.’ They that have been so near and dear to him, the world might think he did approve their sins if he did not manifest his displeasure at them. Usually their sins go nearest his heart, and meet with the sorest vengeance: Deut. xxxii. 19, ‘When the Lord saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provokings of his sons and of his daughters.’ Their relation to God, their privileges, and the consequences of their actions, aggravate their sins; and therefore God is most quick and severe in punishing their sins. We complain we were brought low, but were not our provocations first very high? The most religious cannot wipe their mouths, and excuse themselves as faultless. Oh! what a sad part hath been lately acted upon the public stage! What a trade have many driven for themselves under a mask of religion! What breaches in the body of Christ, uncharitable divisions, making a profession of the name of Christ for carnal ends!

4. That we may learn to live upon the promises, and learn to exercise suffering graces; especially dependence upon God, who can support us without a temporal visible interest. Compare Rev. xii. 11, ‘And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives to the death;’ Rev. xiii. 7, ‘And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them; and power was given him over all kindreds and tongues and nations.’ You shall see how the enemies overcome, and the saints overcome; the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The beast raiseth the world against the saints, and prevaileth over their bodies; he overcomes them by spoiling them, of liberty, lives, and temporal estate; but they overcome by adhering to truth, and resisting his temptations and their own corruptions even in the lowest estate by suffering. So for other graces,—patience, meekness, self-denial, spiritual comforts. As the stars in their order fought against Sisera, so all graces are exercised in their turn: Rev. xiii. 10, ‘Here is the faith and patience of the saints;’ that is, a time to act these graces. A full third of the scriptures would be lost which containeth comfort for afflicted ones, if God did not exercise them with temporal afflictions.

5. That God may convince the enemies that there is a people that do sincerely serve him, and not for carnal selfish ends, Job i. The carnal world suspects private, selfish, worldly aims and designs in all that we do, and attributes all our duties to interest; being themselves led by interest, they cannot think others are led by conscience. Men are apt to suspect and malign what they will not imitate. There is sometimes too much advantage given; many are mercenaries, only esteem the ways of God when beneficial to them: John vi. 26, ‘Ye seek me not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled.’ Therefore it is needful to heighten the price of religion when it is too cheap a thing to be a Christian. This God doth by bringing his people low, that the world may see some will cleave to him in all conditions; not only when his ways are befriended, but when frowned upon. God will glorify himself and his truth by their constancy.

6. That his glory may be more seen in their deliverance; and therefore before God doth appear for his children, he bringeth them very low. Thus Paul, 2 Cor. i. 9, ‘We had the sentence of death in our selves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God, which raised the dead;’ and Ps. cxxxvi. 23, ‘He remembered us in our low estate, for his mercy endureth for ever.’ His mercy and power is the more glorious in our rescue.

All that I shall say by way of use on this point is this—

1. That when we are a small people, and persons of no interest, we have a liberty to use it to God; you may make use of your weak and low condition as an argument of pity. So doth the prophet Amos, ‘Jacob is small;’ so doth David here and elsewhere: Ps. cix. 22, ‘But I am poor and needy; deliver me for thy name’s sake;’ and Ps. lxix. 29, ‘But I am poor and sorrowful; let thy salvation, O God, set me on high.’ It is some ease to acquaint a friend with our griefs that can only pity us, much more when we have liberty to go to God, who can and will help us, and will allow us to complain to him, though not of him.

2. When God’s ends are accomplished there is hope: Isa. x. 12, ‘When the Lord hath performed his whole work upon Mount Zion;’ when he hath chastised his people, and brought them to his purpose, then he will reckon with his enemies; when heaven is minded more, and earth less. We naturally mind earthly things, and please our selves with the dreaming of a happy estate in the world; the appetite of temporal dominion, and wealth, and honour, and peace is natural to us, and very hardly subdued; and therefore we would fain flourish here, and do not comfort ourselves in our crosses with the meditation of the glory of the world to come, but are always feeding ourselves with desires and hopes of earthly happiness, and of turning the tide and current of affairs, that things may again smile, upon us; and when frustrated and disappointed of this hope, our soul fainteth. Your worldly happiness will be a snare to you while you are thus affected, Mat. vi. 33. Prepare for heaven, and God will give you so much happiness by the way as will be needful and fit for you. Again, when we are mortified, and the cross hath purged out sin, Isa. xxvii. 9, the cross hath done its work. So when we are humble: Lev. xxvi. 41, ‘If then their uncircumcised hearts be humble, and they accept of the punishment of their iniquity.’ To be meek in spirit and to trust in the Lord is a forerunner of mercy: Zeph. iii. 12, ‘I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord.’ When you bring honour to God by your sufferings: James i. 4, ‘But let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.’ When it is most for God’s glory to do it: Deut. xxxii. 36, ‘For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up or left.’

Doct. God’s people, when they are brought low, are usually a very despised people, the most despised people under heaven.

Here I shall show—

1. That this is the usual lot of an afflicted people.

2. But especially of the people of God.

3. The trial is very grievous to them.

1. An afflicted people are usually a despised people: Ps. cxxiii. 4, ‘Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorning of those that are at case, and with the contempt of the proud.’ They that are proud, and have all things flow in upon them according to their own will, contemn and slight others, and take no notice of their burdens, unless it be to increase them; they pour vinegar on the wound. The heathens had a reverence for places stricken with thunder, because the hand of God had touched them; but here it is not so: Job xii. 5, ‘He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thoughts of him that is at ease.’ While we are burning lamps, shining in riches and greatness, we shall have enough to look after us; but a poor, broken, dying lamp, a snuff, that is ready to go out, everybody holdeth their nose at it. Whilst the enemies are honourable, great, tumble in wealth and the excess of carnal delights, they despise those that are mean and low, and fallen under God’s hand.

2. The people of God, much more common sufferers, may meet with some pity in their calamity, but the godly are subject to reproaches and mockings in their troubles; and this many times proveth the heaviest part of the cross, and maketh it most grievous to be borne. It is so partly because they are fallen from their great hopes, carried on in a way of religion. Where is their God, their fasting, prayer? As if all were now delusions and fantastical impressions. And partly because the presence of God is sensibly gone from them. The presence of God among his people maketh them wise, courageous, prosperous. How should one chase a hundred, and a hundred put a thousand to flight? But when God leaveth them, they grow despicable and ridiculous above all others: Hosea xiv. 1, ‘Return to the Lord thy God, for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.’ ‘All that honoured her shall despise her, because her nakedness is seen,’ Lam. i. 8. A dispirited, judgment-blasted people shall be contemned. And partly because the cause for which they suffer may be strangely disguised and ill-represented to the world. Satan was first a liar and then a murderer, John viii. 44. Elijah was thought the troubler of Israel. They may not only persecute, but say all manner of evil against us falsely for Christ’s sake, Mat. xi. 19. Christ is called a glutton, a wine-bibber; and Stephen a blasphemer. And partly by Satan’s instigation; by this means he maketh the despisers increase their sin and hasten their judgment, and so he dissuades and discourages many weak Christians from owning the despised ways of Christ; yea, it taketh off much of the cheer fulness and courage of the strong in the profession of godliness.

3. It is very grievous. Contempt maketh our other trials more sharp. Every man thinketh himself worthy of some respect, and would be somebody in the world, and therefore, when we are laid aside as if dead and useless, the temptation is the greater. Saul could better bear death than contempt: 1 Sam. xxxi. 4, ‘Draw thy sword and thrust me through, lest the uncircumcised come and abuse me.’ Zedekiah was afraid of mocking: Jer. xxxviii. 19, ‘Lest they deliver me into the hands of the Chaldeans, and they mock me.’ But not only as we are men is it grievous to us, but also as Christians; because this contempt reflecteth upon our hopes and the worship of God; it hindereth our service: while we were esteemed we did more good, and had greater advantages. It may revive the sense of guilt. God saith, 1 Sam. ii. 30, ‘Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.’ We have made God’s name to be reproached, and religion to be lightly esteemed; we may own the justice of God in all this.

Use. Oh! then, let us be fore-armed against this temptation, that when we lose esteem with wicked men, because we will not comply with their lusts, we may bear it patiently. Surely we stand too much upon honour and respect, and have too tender a sense and feeling of contempt, when it discourageth us in the ways of God. A Christian should seek the honour that cometh from God only, and be content with his approbation. I know it is a blessing to have respect with men; it is said of our Lord Christ that he grew in favour with God and with men, Luke ii. 52; the same also is spoken of Samuel: 1 Sam. ii. 26, ‘And the child grew, and was in favour with God and with men.’ It is a blessing where it may be had without any violation of duty. When God blameth us not, and men have no just complaint against us, our care must be to provide things honest in the sight of God and men, Rom. xii. 17; to take away all cause of offence both from Jew and Gentile, and from the church of God, 1 Cor. x. 32. But if men will not be pleased but with the offence of God, we should count it a privilege to be worthy of the world’s hatred. Gratias ago Deo meo, quod dignus sum, quem mundus oderit, saith Hierome; be not discouraged if they slight you that slight God and Christ and their own salvation. Our self-love is too great when so tender to suffer a little disgrace and contempt for Christ, who hath suffered so many and so great indignities for us. Therefore, though we be small and despised, let our affection be as great to the word as ever; say, 2 Sam. vi. 22, ‘I will yet be more vile than this, and base in mine own sight.’ Alas! many cannot bear contempt, coguntur esse mali ne viles habeantur, as Salvian complains in his days. As we should not forsake the despised ways of God, so not be dejected and troubled at it; better we be despised than God dishonoured; therefore let us purchase the glory of God with our disgrace. To animate you—

1. Consider it is the usual lot and portion of God’s children. When God meaneth thoroughly to humble his children, he suffereth them to be odious in the eyes of the people where they live: we need so sharp a means to do us good, therefore the church complaineth of contempt: Lam. iii. 45, ‘Thou hast made us as the off-scouring and refuse in the midst of the people.’ You will say this was a sinning nation. Nay, the apostle saith the same thing of himself and other apostles: 1 Cor. iv. 13, ‘We are made the filth of the world and the off-scouring of all things;’ cast out, as the sweeping of the city. Yea, Christ himself complaineth, Ps. xxii. 6, ‘I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people;’ as if he were but as a worm to be trod upon in respect of the world. Thou canst not be more despised than Christ was. So Isa. liii. 3, ‘He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; we hid our faces as it were from him: he was despised, and we esteemed him not.’ Well, if this be a common lot and portion of God’s people, it is more usual to persecute with contempt than with violence; men are kept off by the restraint of laws.

2. Shall we not suffer a little for Christ who suffered so much for us? He hath endured greater reproaches for our sakes; and what are we to him? If he endured shame, was made a curse for us, what a softness and tenderness have we for our interests! Mat. x. 24, ‘The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord,’ &c.

3. We must be dead to esteem, credit, and reputation, as well as other things, or else we are incapable of the kingdom of heaven: John v. 44, ‘How can ye believe, that seek honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh of God only?’ John xii. 41, 42, ‘These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him. Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.’ It is not enough to deny brutish pleasures, to escape sordid covetousness, but all prizing of our own credit, content to be nothing, that Christ maybe all in all, or else there is some affection not yet subdued to Christ’s interest; any interest of ours that cometh into competition with Christ must be denied.

4. This is the true fortitude. We all affect to be counted men of spirit and courage; there is not a greater evidence of it than when we can endure contempt for Christ. Military valour depends upon bodily spirits; it is a more brutish thing. Peter, that ventured upon a band of men, was overcome by the weak blast of a damsel’s question. He that can in a generous contempt count man’s day nothing: 1 Cor. iv. 3, ‘But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment,’ &c.

5. The more despised in the world for righteousness’ sake, the more honourable with God. If they could hinder your esteem with him it were something, 2 Cor. x. 18. He is approved whom the Lord commendeth. They will ever be of great account in heaven that have washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb, and kept themselves unspotted from the world, and are clothed with the sun and have the moon under their feet, Rev. xii. 1. The true and afflicted despised church is in the eyes of God fair as the sun, pure as the moon, Cant. vi. 10. You are an elect seed, a royal priesthood, 1 Peter ii. 9.

6. If we cannot endure a little disgrace for God, what shall we do when called to resist unto blood? Jer. xii. 5, ‘If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, how canst thou contend with horses?’ Scommata nostra ferre non potes, &c.

7. God hath his times of bringing you into request again: Ps. xxxvii. 6, ‘He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noon-day;’ Zeph. iii. 19, ‘Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee, and will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out, and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame.’ All God’s children were despised in their time, and yet afterwards were honoured. There is a resurrection of names as well as persons. Abraham gave Isaac his son to God in sacrifice, and received him again; so we receive our names from reproach and contempt. He that draweth light out of darkness is able to revive our credit and esteem; if not in this world, yet in the world to come we shall be glorious, though our condition be never so contemptible here; our reward is not in this life. When he dies, the beggar is carried into Abraham’s bosom. Would you be in the condition of Dives or Lazarus? to wallow in ease and plenty, and go to hell, and be cast out with the devil and damned spirits? or to be poor and despised here, to be carried by angels into the presence of God hereafter? So at the day of judgment: Mat. x. 32, ‘Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father in heaven;’ we shall be publicly owned.

8. Great contempt shall be poured upon those that now contemn you. When Hanun offered injury to David’s servants, he took severe revenge of it. God will require an account of all the wrongs and affronts that are put upon his servants. The wicked shall be made the scorn of good men and angels: Ps. Hi. 6, 7, ‘The righteous also shall see and fear, and laugh at him. Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness; but I am like a green olive-tree,’ &c.

Doct. That though our condition be small and despicable, yet we should be still faithful in our respects to God and his word.

1. The temptation will not excuse us. Esse bonum facile est, ubi quod vetat esse remotum est. Our trial is expressly mentioned in the promise, as necessary for our crowning: James i. 12, ‘When he is tried;’ when the temptation is over, the trial is past. It is no praise for a woman to be chaste that hath no suitors. Adam was tempted by Eve, and Eve by Satan, yet both bore their burden. Si taceret Deus et loqueretur Satan, &c. Why should we hearken to Satan’s suggestions rather than God’s admonitions?

2. God observeth what we do in our trouble: Ps. xliv. 20, 21, ‘If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god, shall not God search out this, for he knoweth the secrets of our hearts?’ If we slacken our service to God, or fall off to any degree of apostasy, the judge of hearts knoweth all; God knoweth whether we have or would deprave and corrupt doctrine, worship, or ordinances, or whether we will faithfully adhere to him, to his word, and worship, and ordinances, whatever it cost us.

3. God and his law are the same, and therefore though our condition be altered, our affections should not. If we love the word of God upon intrinsic reasons, there is the same reason we should adhere to it with love still, as to embrace it out of love: ver. 142, ‘Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth.’ Among men, that may be just to-day which is not so to-morrow, because they and their laws alter; but God’s law is the eternal rule of righteousness, that never alters.

4. In our poor and despicable condition, we see more cause to love the word than we did before; because we experiment supports and comforts which we have thereby: Rom. v. 3, ‘Knowing that tribulation worketh patience,’ &c.; 2 Cor. i. 5, ‘For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.’ God hath special consolations for his afflicted and despised people; and makes their consolation by Christ to run parallel and to keep pace with their sufferings for Christ.

Use 1. Carry your duty still in remembrance. The first step of defection is to forget what God hath commanded. There is an oblivion, and a darkness for the present on the mind, so that a man knoweth not what he knoweth > as Hagar saw not the well that was before her, till God opened her eyes. Therefore revive the grounds of your adherence, if you would constantly adhere to God. The temptation cometh afresh upon you every day, with all the enticing blandishments; so should the reasons of your duty. It helpeth our perseverance to consider how strong and cogent they are, and what wrong we should do to God and religion to consent. At first a man beholds temptations with horror; but being familiarised, our thoughts are more reconciled to them; therefore recollect yourselves, and remember the reasons you first had to put you upon your duty; and if you duly consider them, they will be strong and cogent to repel the temptation, that would take you off from it.

Use 2. It showeth who are lovers of the word and who not. On the one hand, some love the precepts of God when they are in honour and esteem, have many to join with them, and they see peace and plenty follow the profession of it; but rather than they will endure trouble and contempt, forsake it. The Samaritans would be Jews when the Jews were favoured; but in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, when the Jews were in trouble, they would be called Sidonians, οὐκέθ᾽ ὡμολόγουν τὸν ἐν Γαριζὶν ναὸν τοῦ μεγίστου θεοῦ, dedicating their temple not to Jehovah but Jupiter (Josephus). These never received the love of the truth. On the other side, when a man loveth it alike in all times and in all conditions, when rich, when poor, in liberty and in bonds, when the ways of God are countenanced or when despised, it is all one to him; they love it not for out ward respects, but internal reasons.

THE END OF VOL. VIII.


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