Finney's Lectures On Theology

Volume 1, Unpublished, c. 1860     




1. Syllogism -- Major premise: Design implies a designing mind. Minor premise: The universe exhibits conclusive proof of design. Conclusion: Therefore the universe is the product of competent designing mind.

2. Second syllogism -- Major premise: The mind that designed and created the universe is the first cause. Minor premise: But the first cause must be a self-existent, and therefore, as we have seen, immutable, infinite, and perfect being. Conclusion: Therefore God exists, the infinite and perfect First Cause.

The minor premise of the first of the above syllogisms I have not attempted to prove. If anyone calls in question the fact that the universe presents innumerable and conclusive evidences of benevolent design, this is not the place to enlarge upon a subject so extensive. So many treatises have been written upon this subject, so much has been said in respect to the indubitable evidences of design in the construction and working of the universe, that it were a work of supererogation in this connection to attempt to prove it. Suffice it to say in a word, that the revelations of science are continually pouring floods of additional light upon this question, insomuch that even the rocks speak out and bear their testimony that they were created by a designing mind.


1. We have seen that in consciousness we know ourselves to exist; and that we know the existence of that which is not ourselves. I say, we know this in consciousness. It is certain that the very conception of self as self implies also the conception of that which is not self. Should it be said that we are not directly conscious of that which is not self, I answer, that this may be true of the material creation; that is, it may be true and indeed must be true that sense gives the material not self; but it should be remembered that sense is an intuitive faculty and gives its object by a direct beholding of it, just as consciousness gives its object by a direct beholding. The thing of which we are conscious is that we directly behold the not self. It is not so much a matter of consciousness that this beholding is by the faculty of sense; for I am just as conscious of seeing or directly knowing the outward world as I am the inward world. I am just as conscious of knowing the not self as I am of knowing the self. I am conscious of this knowledge, and am just as certain of the existence of the one as of the other. So far as certainty is concerned, therefore, it amounts to the same thing whether it is obtained by one faculty of intuition or the other. The knowledge is intuitive and certain, of this knowledge I am conscious; and whether in strict propriety of speech I am conscious directly of the existence of the not self, or of the outward world, or whether on the other hand, I am conscious of knowing it through the medium of sense, is immaterial so far as the fact of this knowledge is concerned.

But here it should be said, that although it is true in strict propriety of speech that we become conscious of the existence of the outward world only through the intuitions of sense, this is not true in respect to the existence of other beings of whose existence we are directly conscious. In another place I shall endeavor to show that we are directly conscious of the existence of God, and this certainly is not given us through sense. But here I wish to be particularly understood to say, that so far as certainty is concerned, it matters not at all through which of the intuitive functions of the intellect we get at truth. If it be by intuition, the certainty cannot be called in question without denying the validity of all knowledge. If one intuitive function of the intellect may deceive us, in other words, if we are not certain of what we directly behold in consciousness, sense, or reason, if each of these faculties is not to be trusted, neither of them is to be. We can no more doubt the validity of the testimony of one than the other. We are certain of that which we intuit; and if we are not, there is no distinguishing the intuitions of one faculty from another in such a way as to know which is to be trusted. They are all alike veracious, or all alike untrustworthy.

2. There is a material nature.

3. There is an order in this nature.

4. First self-evident truth: This nature and this order in nature has a cause out of itself, or it is self-existent and has the law of its order written within itself. If it is self-existent and has the law of its order written within itself, then it is by a necessity of its own nature eternally just as it is and has been, and therefore immutable, eternal, and infinite.

This we have seen in former propositions, and it needs not to be enlarged upon.

5. Second self-evident truth: Matter cannot be infinite; for it must have a form, and form implies limitation, and therefore finiteness. To speak of matter as having no form is a contradiction. To speak of form as being infinite is also a contradiction. Again, it cannot be infinite, for it is made up of finite parts or particles, and no number of units or finites can ever make an infinite.

Again, it has been shown that if matter is self-existent it must be eternal, infinite, immutable. But it cannot be immutable because we ourselves know that we can introduce many changes in it. That is, if the universe of matter is self-existent and has the law of all its changes inherent in itself, then there is no power that can vary in the least degree these changes; for the law of these changes, if matter be self-existent, must be absolutely omnipotent. In other words, if matter exists and changes under a law of necessity, it is a contradiction to say that any power in the universe, or any conceivable power, can vary the order of these changes.

But as I said, we ourselves know that we change this order, and we know that those around us introduce innumerable variations in the order of changes going on in the material universe around about us.

Dr. Chalmers and others have admitted that without damage to the theistic argument, we may admit that matter is self-existent and therefore eternal. "For," he says, "we must not necessarily suppose the existence of God to account for the collocation of matter." But I cannot consent to this, for the reason, that if matter does eternally exist, necessity must be an attribute of its nature, and in every respect in which it does exist it exists by this necessity, and consequently it is necessarily immutable. That is, no change can ever be introduced into it except under the action of its own inherent necessary laws; and these laws must, to all intents and purposes, be omnipotent; that is, they must have power to resist any conceivable power that might set upon them. To suppose the contrary were to deny the self-existence and therefore the necessary existence of matter. If God did not create the materials out of which the universe is formed, if those materials do in fact exist independent of him, that is, if they are self-existent, the supposition that God could form the material universe and locate matter as we find it located out of self-existent materials, is an absurdity.


1. A self-existent material universe, having an eternal and necessary order of development, is first an absurdity.

2. It contradicts consciousness, for we are aware ourselves of acting upon it and changing the order of its development, which could not be were it self-existent and under a law of necessary development.

3. It follows that material nature and its order commenced in time. We have seen that order must be made up of succeeding events, for order can belong to nothing else than changes, but changes must occur in time. Should it be said, that nature itself may have been eternal, and its changes have commenced in time; I answer, this is a contradiction, if this nature has the law of its development or changes in itself. If this law is in itself, then these changes must have been coeval with the existence of that in which this law resides. But eternal changes are a contradiction; and an eternal nature having a law of change in itself is a contradiction, because no eternal changes, and consequently no eternal law of change, can possibly exist.

4. The material universe must have had a cause out of and superior to itself; its existence and changes cannot otherwise by any possibility be accounted for. Indeed, it is a contradiction to affirm the existence of nature, and the order of its changes, except upon the admission that it had a cause out of itself.

5. The cause of the material universe must be a self-existent, and therefore an infinite Being. We have seen that a necessary cause is a contradiction; for a self-existent necessary cause must be an eternal cause, or imply eternal acts of causation; for be it remembered that cause is power in producing action. I say, therefore, that the cause of the material universe must be a self-existent, and therefore a necessarily existent, immutable, infinite Being.

6. Again, this Being must be a free and intelligent Being. No being can be free in the proper sense of freedom who is not intelligent; for free will acts only upon conditions of perceived reasons for action; therefore freedom always implies intelligence.

7. Again, this First Cause must be naturally perfect; that is, every attribute which he possesses must be infinite, and therefore perfect in the highest sense of perfection.

8. Again, we have seen in a former lecture that the ideas of the finite and the infinite are contrasts, always exist together in the mind, and that neither can be held without the other. The same we have seen to be true of the ideas of the perfect and the imperfect, and also of the conditioned and the unconditioned, of succession and time, of body and space. One of these ideas, then, implies the other; and where one is the other must be. But does the fact of the existence of the finite imply the existence of the infinite; the existence of the imperfect that of the perfect; the existence of the conditioned that of the unconditioned? I answer, yes. (1) Because no finite being is self-existent. Every finite existence, therefore, must have begun to be in time, must have had a cause; and as an infinite series of causes and effects is a contradiction, there must be a First Cause. (2) An imperfect being cannot be a self-existent being; for whatever is self-existent, we have seen, must be infinite, and therefore every attribute which a self-existent being possesses must be perfect in the highest conceivable sense, since, being infinite, nothing can be conceived to be wanting. If then, there be an imperfect being, it must be a dependent and created being; but this implies the existence of a First Cause, infinite and perfect. (3) The same is true of a conditioned being. The very conception of a conditioned being is that of a dependent being, that is, dependent for existence. Such a being, therefore, cannot be self-existent. But if not self-existent, it must have been created; and there must have been a First Cause, which must be self-existent and unconditioned.

IV. PROPOSITIONS, in the light of the foregoing.

1. First proposition: If any event ever occurred, an infinite and perfect God exists. Syllogism--Major premise: We have seen that events imply the existence of a First Cause. Minor premise: We have seen also that a First Cause must be self-existent and therefore infinite and perfect. Conclusion: Therefore if any event exists, God exists, the infinite and perfect.

2. Second proposition: If any consciousness exists, God exists, the infinite and perfect. Syllogism--Major premise: Consciousness must be either an eternal and infinite, or a finite consciousness. If an infinite consciousness, then it must be the consciousness of God, and God exists; if a finite consciousness, it is an event. Minor premise: But the existence of any event, as we have seen, implies the existence of an infinite and perfect Cause. Conclusion: Therefore if any consciousness exists, God the infinite and perfect exists.

3. Third proposition: If any doubt of the existence of God exists, God must exist. Syllogism--Major premise: The existence of doubt is an event. Minor premise: The existence of any event, as we have seen, implies the existence of an infinite First Cause. Conclusion: Therefore, if any doubt exists of God's existence, God the infinite and perfect must exist.

4. Fourth proposition: If God's existence be denied, his existence must be a fact. Syllogism--Major premise: The denial of the existence of God must be an event. Minor premise: The existence of any event implies the existence of an infinite and perfect First Cause. Conclusion: Therefore, if God's existence was ever denied, his existence must be a fact.

5. Fifth proposition: If atheists exist, God exists. Syllogism--Major premise: the existence of an atheist is an event. Minor premise: The existence of any event implies the divine existence. Conclusion: Therefore, if there be an atheist in existence, God the infinite and perfect exists.


1. If any event ever occurred, an infinite, free, and perfect Being must exist; showing, if any event ever occurred it must have been finite, dependent, and in time. Finite, because an infinite event is an absurdity; dependent, because whatever is not infinite is not necessary and therefore cannot be independent. That is, it must be dependent in time, because an event is an occurrence, a something that comes to pass, begins to be. An eternal event is impossible and a contradiction; it must, therefore, occur in time.

2. If anything finite, dependent, and commencing in time exists, it must have had a cause out of and superior to itself. This we have abundantly seen. Therefore, if anything finite, dependent, commencing in time, exists, there must be a First Cause; and this Cause must be a self-existent, eternal and necessary Being; that is, his existence must be necessary, or the ground of his existence is in himself. But as a Cause, he must be free. We have seen that a necessary Cause must be an eternal Cause, and that an eternal Cause implies eternal events, which is a contradiction. A First Cause, then, must be a free, intelligent Cause; hence if any event ever occurred, there must be an infinite, free, and perfect Being existing as a First Cause.

But of this First Cause let me further say: We have seen that a First Cause must be a self-existent Being, consequently that he must be immutable in all his attributes; he must therefore be infinite in all his attributes; and an absolutely perfect Being must be perfect in all the attributes which he possesses.

3. Again, we have seen that the existence of atheism as an event implies the divine existence.

4. Again, if the possibility and reality of theism should be denied, the denial itself would be an event and imply the existence of God.

5. From the foregoing propositions, it follows, that if the universe of creatures is all matter, God must exist as the infinite and perfect First Cause.

6. Again, if the universe of creatures is all mind, as the Idealists maintain, God must exist as the First Cause. The same is true if the universe is only thought, as the extreme school of Idealists maintain. The existence of thought is an event, and really implies the existence of an infinite and perfect First Cause.

7. But further, it has been laid down as a self-evident proposition, that whatever is self-existent is infinite. Of matter it should also be said that it cannot be infinite, for since one of its essential properties is form, and whatever has form cannot be infinite, it must therefore be finite and dependent, and imply the existence of a First Cause out of and above itself; which First Cause is self-existent, infinite, and perfect.

8. Again, our own minds we know to be limited or finite. Our conscious existence implies the existence of God.

9. Again, from what has been said it follows, that whether the universe is all matter, or all mind, or only thought, or whether all this matter, mind, and thought exist, God's existence is equally implied as the infinite and perfect First Cause.

10. Again, knowing ourselves to exist, the nonexistence of God is inconceivable; therefore nihilism is a contradiction and an impossible conception. Suppose any one would say, that he could conceive that nihilism should be true, in the assertion he contradicts himself. He says, I can conceive that there is no existence; but who has this conception? And what is the conception itself? The very existence of the conception shows the absurdity of the statement; and that he who affirms that it is possible that nothing does in fact exist contradicts himself; no such conception is conceivable.


1. Man is capable of being directly taught of God; this cannot be rationally denied. We are conscious of being spirit, and we necessarily conceive of him as spirit. If any one denies that God as a Spirit can instruct our spirits by a direct communication with us, the burden of proof is certainly on him.

2. Again, man is capable of being conscious that he is taught of God. The prophets were so; and every spiritual mind has this consciousness at times. If it be asked how the prophets knew that they were directly inspired of God, I cannot tell; and perhaps they could not tell how God taught them. But they were distinctly conscious that it was God, and no other than God, that taught them. If it should be objected, as it may be, that they may have been deceived, that the false prophets certainly were deceived and therefore all prophets may have been; I answer, it is true that men may be deceived, as in a dream they may think themselves awake; nevertheless, when they are awake they are aware of it. So if a false prophet may have been deceived, it does not follow that the true prophets were not sure that they were not deceived. If God can directly inspire a man, he can certainly make him aware that he is not deceived; else how could an honest man ever affirm himself to be inspired by God? But if God can directly and personally teach the human mind, and we can be personally aware of it; then we can be conscious of the existence of God in the fact that he personally enlightens and instructs us.

3. But again, man is capable of communion, and sympathy, and moral union with God. If anyone denies this, the burden of proof is upon him. Our necessary conception of God is that he is a mind as we are; that he has intellect, sensibility, and will, as we have. We necessarily conceive ourselves as being in his image. Now this necessary conception which we have of God must be substantially the same conception. To deny it were to call in question our fundamental and irresistible convictions; or in other words, to deny a first truth of reason.

If, then, man is in the image of God, he must be capable of knowing him, of sympathizing with him, and of moral union with him, agreeing with him in design or motive, living for the same end for which he lives. And it is plain that this sympathy may be a sympathy with his views, and therefore intellectual; with his choice, and therefore moral; and with his feelings, and therefore belonging to the sensibility. Thus our whole mind is capable of this communion, and union, and sympathy with God.

4. Again, if we have this communion, and sympathy, and union, we must be conscious of it.

5. Again, millions of the wisest and best of human beings have had this consciousness for years, have avowed this consciousness, have lived in accordance with the existence of such a consciousness. Now, the existence of this consciousness is to the individual a certain knowledge of the existence of God; he is conscious of the existence of God in his personal knowledge of him, communion and sympathy with him. By this I do not mean that he is conscious of his infinity; but he is conscious that he has union with the divine mind, with one whom he certainly regards as infinite and perfect. To the individual, the existence of God is a fact in consciousness.

6. Again, the testimony of those who have this consciousness is valid. They are competent witnesses; they are credible witnesses. Myriads of them in every way, in life and death, give evidence of entire sincerity, and also of being intelligent in their affirmations. Now this testimony is good in its kind; for if one cannot testify to that of which he is conscious, of what can he testify? For this is a certain form of knowledge. The testimony, then, of witnesses who give the highest evidence of sincerity and of virtue in their life and death that can be given, is valid testimony.

To this, it may be, and HAS BEEN OBJECTED, FIRST, that multitudes have evidently been deceived. To this I answer: Evidently been deceived? How has this deception been evident? Has it appeared in their lives or temper? Or, have they testified to contradictions and abnormalities? The objection assumes that there was evidence that they were deceived. Now I admit that many have been deceived, and have given evidence that they were deceived, but this does not begin to prove that all have been deceived. Of many it cannot be said that they have evidently been deceived; for there is no evidence that they were deceived, but the highest evidence that they were not deceived. The fact that many have been deceived does not prove by any means that others may not know that they are not deceived; any more than that a man's supposing himself to be awake when he is asleep proves that he cannot know when he is awake.

OBJECTION SECOND: This argument from consciousness may be, and is, plead[sic.] by the Spiritists. They affirm that they are conscious of direct communion with spirits. To this I answer (1) That the cases are not parallel. Those who are conscious of communion with God are aware of this communion in its directly transforming influence in giving to them a new inward experience, or a new inward spiritual life, filling them with love, and joy, and peace, and adoring views of his attributes and character; of the purifying and elevating influence of this communion. In short, they are not merely aware of its being communion with a spirit, but with a Divine Spirit; and that this communion is to them a new life, spiritual, heavenly; and that it influences the will, the intellect, and the sensibility, and is transforming in its influence, covering the whole of our inward experience and developing itself in a holy life. Now nothing like this is so much as affirmed by the Spiritists. Most of their affirmations are manifestly inferences which they draw from material facts. They hear a rapping, and infer that it is a spirit. But this is no consciousness; they are only conscious of hearing raps. Again, they profess to hear words; to be taught to write involuntarily, or without knowing what they write; to be taught to speak in an unknown tongue, without knowing what they speak; and sometimes to speak impromptu, not from themselves, but from spirits with them.

Now who does not see that all this is inference? Suppose all the facts which they allege really exist; the testimony is not in point. How do they know that it is a spirit that moves their hand? And that it is such or such a spirit? How do they know that it is a spirit that produces these effects? Are they directly conscious of this spirit within themselves in such a sense as Christians are conscious of communion with God? I am not aware that Spiritists make any such pretensions. But if they do, do they give as high evidence of sincerity, intelligence, and honesty, as spiritual and heavenly minded Christians do? Now I must say that I do not believe that any such testimony in favor of Spiritism exists, or ever did exist.

But (2), If this kind of testimony does in fact exist, which is really the testimony of consciousness, of course it is to be received. The testimony of consciousness is conclusive, and not to be disposed of by such an objection as this. If Spiritists can actually give us the testimony of consciousness that they have had communion with spirits, and know them -- if they are directly conscious of this, it must be true. No one surely can affirm that no such communion is possible; but do they have such communion? Do they give so high evidence to others that they have this communion, that their testimony ought to be received by them? I do not believe that any such testimony exists among them.

Again, while I admit that the testimony of consciousness with regard to communion with finite spirits might be valid, yet I do not admit that it could be valid in the same sense in which the testimony of conscious communion with God can be valid. If God communes with us and we with him, he must be interested to make us fully aware of it. He is able to make us fully aware of it, and to render it impossible that we should be deceived; and such in fact has been the consciousness of the inspired writers and of spiritual Christians in all ages. They really no more doubt their communion with God than they doubt their own existence. If you ask them how they know it, they cannot tell how, anymore than they can tell how they can see an object when their eyes are open upon it; nor any more than they can tell how they are conscious of their own existence. But they can tell you that this communion is to them an indubitable reality; that while it exists it cannot be doubted; and that it is only when it has passed away and cannot be renewed in consciousness, that it is possible to doubt it.

7. Again, in the course of theological inquiries it will be seen that the testimony of consciousness is conclusive upon many theological questions. I have been astonished that so little importance seemed to be attached by Christians, and Christian writers, to this form of testimony. I know that it has been objected that it will not be received by skeptics. But why should it not? Skeptics can resist the evidence of miracles, can deny the evidence of their sense, can call in question first truths of reason; but after all they possess minds, and with all their denials it is impossible for them to get rid of the deep conviction that such a testimony ought to be received. I ask, why should not skeptics receive the oral and written testimony of millions of spiritual minds that affirm that they know God by a direct personal knowledge and intercourse with him; that they are aware of communion with him, of being taught by him, of being led, sustained, and saved from sin by him? They have testified that their communion with him has resulted in a radical change of the great end of their being; that it has resulted in the permanent reformation of their lives; that they have for years kept up habitually and more or less constantly this communion with him, the result of which has been evident to all that knew them. Thus they have lived on the comforts of this intercourse with God; thus they have been sustained in holy living and triumphing over the trials of life; and thus they have died, testifying in life and death that God is, that they know him, have communion with him, and walk with him.

Now why should not this testimony be received on this subject? They surely are competent witnesses in the sense that they know what they say and whereof they affirm. They are also credible witnesses; for they give every evidence in life and in death of entire honesty. Again, they are innumerable, and are uniform in their testimony and agree together. No fact then was ever established by so good and so much testimony from human beings as this. Why, then, should infidels not receive it? To say that individuals have been deceived is nothing to the purpose; for in cases where individuals have been deceived, it is admitted that they have given evidence of being deceived. If this were not so, then there is no ground for saying that any ever were deceived. But what shall we say of those who have given no evidence of having been deceived? The fact that others have been deceived on a question of consciousness, in other words, have misinterpreted the facts of consciousness, or have never had in fact any such consciousness, is no ground for the contention that all have been deceived.

In consciousness I know God through my sensibility, and not through my intelligence merely. With my eyes shut I can recognize the presence of heat. I never saw heat. But I know it in feeling. God sheds his love, that is, himself, abroad in my sensibility. I know that this is God's love, and yet that it is in my heart. I feel it and cannot but know it is God. I cannot tell how I know it; the fact I know. To deny this is to shut us up to speculation, and shut us out from all really transforming knowledge of God. The intuitive function, sense, gets all its intuitions through the sensibility. Sense is spiritual, although the organs of sense are material. In consciousness I seem to have a sense that is related to God. Material objects are revealed to me in and through sensation. I do not infer the existence of the material from sensation, but through sensation I directly behold the material. So in the warmth and light and love and peace and joy of our inward experience I directly and irresistibly recognize God. I feel after God and find him, and I know that I feel and find God. If we can know our organism, or the not me in consciousness, surely we may know God in consciousness. I am conscious of feeling God in my soul. I know it is God and no other than God. The how I do not know. This, like all other knowledge, is a mystery as to the how. (This paragraph added later, in different hand writing, perhaps when he was old -- Gordon Olson).


We have seen that the moral function of the reason, conscience, directly assumes the existence of God as Moral Governor. But does the natural reason, or the function of the reason applied to natural objects and truths, as distinguished from moral objects and truths, necessarily assume and affirm the existence of God? I answer, Yes. Our own existence is a fact, an ultimate fact of consciousness. The existence of the human race is itself a fact of consciousness. This fact of our own conscious existence is the platform on which we stand. This fact it assumes; and it is impossible for us to forget it or not to assume it. Now the human reason, assuming as it does its own existence, directly affirms the existence of God as its logical antecedent, or more strictly as the condition of its existence. God's existence it knows to be implied in the fact of its own existence.

The human reason, therefore, necessarily assumes the existence of God as being implied in its own existence. The fact of its own existence and the existence of God are both intuitively and necessarily affirmed, self-existence in reason implying the existence of God. Therefore, knowing as we do, by an absolute knowledge, that we ourselves exist, it is really a necessary and universal assumption of reason that God exists; and in this sense the existence of God is a first truth of reason, a truth of universal and necessary assumption.


Where, then, do we find ourselves at the present stage of our inquiries on the question of the divine existence?

1. His existence has been demonstrated by the argument a posteriori, reasoning from effect to cause.

2. The reality of his existence has been shown to be an a priori knowledge of conscience.

3. The reality of his existence has also been shown to be a necessary assumption of the reason, implied in its existence. That man being conscious of his own existence, and reason necessarily assuming its own existence, affirms the existence of God directly as the logical condition of its own existence.

4. It has been shown that the fact of his existence is, in multitudes of cases, a truth or a fact of direct and personal consciousness.

5. It has been shown that as certain as any fact or event ever existed, whatever that fact or event might be, God exists. If there ever was any event, God exists. If there ever was a phenomenon, God exists. If there ever was an act, or a thought, or a doubt in existence, God exists. If this is not proof sufficient and conclusive, then it is impossible to prove anything. It has been said, and strangely enough, that the existence of God could not be proved. But we have seen the contrary. Indeed, it is easy to prove the existence of God in so many ways and by such an accumulation of evidence, that to deny his existence is simply ridiculous.

6. The testimony from consciousness or experience is, after all, that which will most affect and best satisfy a certain class of skeptics, matter of fact minds. There are certain important though unrecognized distinctions between:

(1) How we know and how to prove to others certain truths, for example, the existence of God. We know by intuition, conscious experience. We prove by demonstration, and by our own testimony. We know a priori, we prove a posteriori.

(2) We know the truths given by reason, consciousness, and sense, by intuition. We prove the truths of reason by a perspicuous statement, of consciousness and sense, either by our own testimony or by appeals to the consciousness and sense of those to be convinced.

(3) We know many things that we cannot prove, that is, our personal identity, our moral liberty or freedom.

(4) He who insists upon proving everything, can prove nothing.

(5) Truths that we know by intuition, either of reason, consciousness, or sense, we cannot prove to ourselves, because there is no truth more certainly known from which to reason. (Section 6 added in less clear writing, perhaps later in life). (In this lecture, Roman numerals and outline headings added, although some were indicated -- Gordon Olson).


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