The Hand of God in History - 1
By Rev. Hollis Read, A.M.
Philadelphia: John E. Potter and Company, 1870 (First published in 1847)
Chapter 7: God in Modern Missions (17th & 18th Century)
Emphasis added in bold letters throughout chapter.
The full history of the world is a history of redemption. To the casual observer of Providence, to the ordinary reader of this world's history, the whole appears like a chaos of incidents, no thread, no system, no line of connection running through it. One course of events is seen here, and another there. Kingdoms rise on the stage one after another, and become great and powerful, and then pass away and are forgotten. And the history of the Church seems scarcely less a chaos than that of the world. Changes are continually going on within it and around it, apparently without much order.
Yet all is not a chaos. The Christian student, with his eye devoutly fixed on the Hand of God, looks out upon the world, and back on the wide field of its history, and takes altogether a different view. What before seemed so chaotic and disorderly, now puts on the appearance of system and form. All is animated by one Mind, and that Mind is Providence, our mighty God and King.
The writer of the following pages believes his subject timely. Perhaps as never before, the minds of the most sagacious writers of our age are watching with profound and pious interest the progress of human events. The aim of the author has been to make the work historical, at least so abounding in narrative, anecdote, biography, and in the delineations of men and things in real life; and at the same time to reveal at every step the Hand of God overruling the events of history...
History, when rightly written, is but a record of Providence; and he who would read history rightly, must read it with his eye constantly fixed on the Hand of God. Every change, every revolution in human affairs, is, in the mind of God, a movement to the consummation of the great work of redemption. There is no doubt at the present time, a growing tendency so to write and so to understand history....
Chapter 1: Hand of God
A YOUNG shepherd boy, as he tends his father’s flocks on the hills of Palestine, dreams a dream. No strange event this, and, accustomed as he was to gaze on the starry concave, not strange that he should dream of the sun, moon and stars—or that it should have been interpreted of his future greatness, or that his brethren should on this account hate him—or that Joseph should be sold a slave -- into Egypt. Here seemed an end of the whole matter.
The exiled youth soon wear out in bondage, unknown and unwept; a disconsolate father go down to the grave mourning, and the posterity of Jacob cultivate their fields, and watch their flocks, forgetful that this outrage to humanity ever disgraced the annals of their family history.
But not so in the mind of God. Joseph is enslaved—accused of crime—thrown into prison. Yet in that dark cell is nourished the germ of hope to the church of the living God. Israel should grow up on the banks of the Nile, and spread his boughs to the river, and his branches to the sea. The eye of God was here steadily fixed on the advancement of His people.
Again, something is seen floating amidst the flags of the river of Egypt. A servant woman is ordered to bring it. It is an ark of rushes. Thousands of Hebrew children had perished uncared for; but now, as by accident, one is found and introduced into the palace of the king and to the court. He is educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and schooled in the discipline needful to make him a legislator and a military leader. With what care did God watch that little rush bark, and with what consummate skill order every event, till he had reared up Moses, and fitted him to act a more prominent part in the advancement of His cause than any mortal had acted before.
Or, an obscure female is born in Persia. At an early age she is left an orphan. An uncle adopts her, and hopes she may yet solace his declining years. She is beautiful, lovely, modest—yet nothing points her out to any enviable station above the thousands of the daughters of Persia. To all human forethought she would live and die unknown as she was born. But the people of God are scattered throughout the hundred and twenty and seven provinces of Persia. Esther is a daughter of the captivity; and God would raise up her up to save His people from an impending danger, and honor them in the sight of the heathen. The palace of Shushan, and the gorgeous court of the Shah, shall stand in awe of Esther’s God.
By a singular train of circumstances the obscure orphan is brought to the notice of the king—finds favor, and is called to share with him the honors of his throne. And what deliverances she wrought for her people—how she brought them out from their long obscurity, and gave them notoriety and enlargement, and prepared the way for their restoration to their native land and to the Holy Hill of Zion, is known to all who have traced the hand of Providence in this portion of Sacred History.
Again, a youth of nineteen years is carried captive to Babylon. But there was nothing singular in this. Thousands of every age and rank had been forced away from their native hills and valleys of Palestine, the victims of the Babylonian armies raised up by God to bring judgment on His own wayward nation. But the time had come when God would proclaim His name and His rightful claims to sovereignty from the high battlements of the greatest of earthly potentates. Again he would magnify His people in the sight of all nations.
Hence Daniel’s captivity — hence that faithful youth prayed and exemplified an enlightened, unbending piety till the king and his court, the nobles and the people publicly acknowledged the God of Daniel, and “blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him that liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation.”
In the following pages, an attempt is made to present, within prescribed limits, an historical illustration of the Hand of God as displayed in the extension and establishment of Christianity. And the author will compass his end in proportion as he may contribute any thing to a right apprehension of history—of the divine purposes in the vicissitudes and revolutions of human affairs, discerning in the records of all true history the one great end,
“For which all nature stands, and stars their courses move.”
All veritable history is but an exponent of Providence, and it cannot but interest the mind of intelligent piety, to trace the hand of God in all the changes and revolutions of our world’s history. All are made beautifully to serve the interests of the Lord of the Church; all tend to the furtherance of the one great purpose of the Divine mind: the glory of God in the redemption of man. He that would rightly study history must keep his eye constantly fixed on the great scheme of human salvation.
History, however, has been written with no such intent. “The first thing that it should have shown is the last thing that it has shown. The relation of all events to God’s grand design is by most historians quite overlooked.” All past history is but the unraveling of God’s eternal plan. The whole course of human events is made finally to serve this one great purpose. The philosophy of history can be learned only in the laboratory of heaven—with the eye fixed on the Hand that moves the world, and the spirit in harmony with the great Spirit that animates the universe.
It is only when we see God—Christ—redemption, in history, that we read it in the light of truth. “This is the golden thread that passes through its entire web, and gives it its strength, its luster and consistency.”
With beautiful propriety the Prophet Ezekiel prefaces his predictions with a striking delineation of Divine Providence. Or rather God prepares the prophet’s mind to become the vehicle of the most extraordinary series of predictions concerning his people, by a vision emblematical of Providence. It came under the similitude of a “wheel,” or a sphere made of a “wheel in the middle of a wheel.”
A whirlwind and a cloud appear in the north, illumined with a brightness as of fire. Out of the midst of the cloud appears the likeness of four living creatures; each has four faces.... Their wings are raised and joined one to another, and when they move they move “straightforward,” as directed by the Spirit, and they turn not as they go. [Ezekiel 1]
These may be taken to represent the ministers of Providence—angels, with ready wing to obey the behests of Heaven—intent on their errands of mercy or of wrath—turning neither to the right hand nor the left, subject to no mistakes, hindered by no obstructions—and all their movements directed by one great Mind. “Whither the Spirit was to go, they went; they run and return as the appearance of a flash of lightning.” [This agrees with respected Bible commentaries]
And such is God's providence--a scheme for carrying out purposes high as heaven, and lasting as eternity -- vast, profound in its conception, sublime in result.... None but the omniscient eye can fathom it -- none but infinite Wisdom can scan its secret recesses; so boundless, everywhere active, all-influential, that none but the infinite Mind can survey and comprehend its wonder-working operations.... [See 1 Corinthians 2:9-16]
Like the sea, Providence has its flows and ebbs, its calms and tempests. At one time we ride on the swelling bosom of prosperity. the tide of life runs high and strong. The sunbeams of health and joy glisten in our tranquil waters, and we scarcely fear a disturbing change. Again the tide sets back upon us. Disappointment, poverty, sickness, bodily or mental affliction, throw life and all its enjoyments in the ebb. We are tossed on the crested billow, or lie struggling beneath the overwhelming wave.
Like the sea, Providence is not only the minister of the Divine mercy, but of the Divine displeasure executing judgments on the froward and disobedient: a minister of discipline, too, casting into the furnace of affliction, that it may bring out the soul seven-times purified. We can see but little of its boundless surface, or sound but little of its unfathomable depths.
“And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the back side, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is able to open the book and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book. And I wept.
"And one of the elders said unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” (Revelation 5:1-5)
This book was an ancient roll, composed of seven distinct parts—so rolled as to leave an end of each on the outside, which was sealed with a separate seal.
The book was written within—reserved in the keeping of Him that sitteth on the throne—held in the right hand of Omnipotence—the understanding and unfolding of its secrets was committed only to the Son, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. None could “look thereon,” or take it from the right hand of Him that sitteth on the throne, but the Lamb that stood in the “midst of the throne.”
This is another apt and beautiful emblem of Divine Providence. As mediatorial King, the Lord Jesus Christ undertakes the unrolling of this mysterious scroll—the unfolding of the eternal purposes of Jehovah—the controlling of all events, and the ordering and overruling of all the vicissitudes and revolutions in human affairs, the carrying out of the Divine purposes.
Whoever will read the history of the world and of the church of God with his eyes fixed on the providential agency which everywhere overrules the events of the one to the furtherance and well-being of the other, will see all history... animated by a spirit of which the mere chronicler of historical events knows nothing. He will learn that history has a sacred philosophy -- that he is standing in the council chambers of eternity, reading the annals of infinite Wisdom and Mercy, as blended and developed in the great work of human redemption. He will see in all history such a shaping of every event as finally to further the cause of truth.
Events apparently contradictory often stand in the relation of cause and effect. A Pharaoh and a Nebuchadnezzar, an Alexander and a Nero, a Domitian and a Borgia, Henry the VIII and Napoleon, men world-renowned yet oftentimes prodigies of wickedness, are in every age made the instruments and the agents to work out the scheme of His operations who maketh the wrath of man to praise him. “Howbeit they mean not so.”
The Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings; so the Lord alone did lead him. He has engraved him on the palms of his hands. By some anomaly of nature a mother may forget her sucking child, but God will not forget his inheritance in Jacob.
The earth changes; the sea changes; change is the order of all terrestrial things. They appear and pass away, and we scarcely know they have been. But not so with the church of God. As He lives so she shall live.
The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light; a beautiful emblem of a superintending Providence over his church. And “He has never taken away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night.” By his sleepless energy, he has prepared the way before them, and led them by his own right hand. For their sakes he has made and unmade kings—formed and dissolved empires—cast down and discomfited enemies, and raised up friends.
It shall be our delightful task to trace the footsteps of Providence in the extension and establishment of the church. While much has been done for the spread of the true religion by missionary effort, much more has been done through the direct agency of Providence. Illustrations crowd upon us unsought: a few of which, as isolated cases, shall be allowed to fill up our first chapter. [Pages 10-18]
1. Peter and Pentecost. I do not here refer directly to the extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit on that day, or to the great number of converts, but to the remarkable concurrence of circumstances, which made that a radiating point of the newly risen Sun of Righteousness to most of the nations of the earth.
Had not the Parthians and the Medes, the Arabians and the dwellers in Mesopotamia been there, the influence of that occasion had been confined within a narrow province. But as the event was, the gospel flew as on wings of the wind through all the countries represented in Peter's assembly on that memorable day. And as the apostles afterward traversed those same regions they found the glad tidings of Pentecost had gone before them as pioneers to their success, and harbingers of peace.... All this was purely providential -- a conjunction of circumstances to bring about results which should be felt over the whole known world.
"When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they [disciples and other believers] were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance....
"Then they ["the multitudes"] were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, 'Look, are not all these who speak 'Galileans? 'And how is it that we hear, each in our own 'language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.'”
2. The Persecution which arose about Stephen. Its immediate and obvious result was a cruel persecution against the whole church, scattering abroad the disciples through all the neighboring nations. The ultimate and more glorious result -- the providential aspect and design, was that they should, wherever dispersed, go preaching the gospel, strengthened and encouraged.... The gospel was by this means introduced and established in other regions. They that had long sat in the land of the shadow of death, light shined on them.
3. Paul's being carried prisoner to Rome. Rome was the imperial city, the metropolis of the world. Judea, the cradle of Christianity, was, , on the other hand, merely an insignificant province; the believing Jews, a hated people, and the founder of Christianity, was condemned as a crucified malefactor. Yet Jesus of Nazareth shall be known and honored at Rome. Her seven hills shall be as seven golden candlesticks to send the light of truth abroad.
With man this was impossible. There were Christians in Rome; yet Rome was a proud, pagan city. The church and her envoys were equally in bad repute. Her excellencies were unknown, and her beauties, as dimly seen through the fogs of ignorance and prejudice, were unappreciated. But the religion of Calvary shall be honored at Rome—there shall be a church in the “household of Caesar.” That great pagan empire shall yield to the cross, and her proud capital shall be the radiating point of light.
It is fit, then, that an apostle should go there—that God's arm should wield the sword of the Spirit amidst those giant powers of darkness—that His voice should be heard in the forum and known in the palace of Caesar. But how can this be?
God had a way—Paul must be arrested in the midst of his successful mission in Asia Minor. This seemed a sore evil! But the great Husbandman had need of him in another part of his vineyard. He must be arrested—be brought and accused before a Roman tribunal, allowed an appeal to Caesar -- and to Caesar he must go. But he goes, though in chains, the ambassador of heaven, the messenger of Christianity, to the capital of the empire, and to the palace of the monarch. He goes at the expense of a pagan government, in a government ship, under governmental protection, and for the express purpose of making a defense which shall lay a necessity on him to preach Christ and him crucified before the imperial court.
All this is providential. On this highest summit of earthly power, Paul kindled a fire whose light soon shone to the remotest bounds of the Roman empire.
4. The dispersion of the Christians was another providential interposition which contributed immensely to the wide and rapid spread of the gospel. Jerusalem had been divinely appointed the radiating point of Christianity. The gospel must first be preached at Jerusalem; then to the hybrid tribes of Samaria; and thence, chiefly through the instrumentality of Jews, to the remotest parts of the earth. But the Jews were a people proverbially averse to mingling with other nations; and how shall the Christians become the messengers of salvation to a perishing world?
A signal providence here interposed: Jerusalem is besieged by a Roman army; her mighty ramparts are broken down; her palaces demolished; her gorgeous temple laid in ruins. The fold broken up, the sheep are scattered.
They spread themselves over the plains of Asia, even to the confines of the Chinese sea. They wander over the hills and settle down in the valleys of Europe; nor does the broad Atlantic arrest their progress to the new world. Wherever dispersed, they bear testimony to the truth of Christianity. Whether in Kamtschatka on the torrid sands of Africa, on the Columbia or the Ganges, the Christian is a messenger of truth and righteousness. The bare fact of the dispersion was a living and palpable illustration of God's sovereignty.
Nothing so abundantly favored the spreading of the gospel as the dispersion of the people of Israel: "Through their fall, salvation is come to the Gentiles." Their rejection was the occasion the means of a wider and richer diffusion of the gospel. Indeed, at every step of the progress of Christianity we meet a wonder-working Providence opening and preparing the way of the kingdom of God among the nations of the earth.
5. The extent and character of the Roman Empire, at this time, affords another notable instance. In the construction of that vast empire, God had, for near forty centuries, been preparing a stupendous machinery for the triumph of the truth over the superstition and ignorance, the learning and the philosophy of the whole earth....
In political wisdom and the science of government, in the arts and sciences, in civilization and refinement, Rome drew much from the ever past. Having adopted the mythologies of her predecessors, the lapse of time had shown her their inefficacy and nothingness; and, consequently, long before the coming of Christ, the state of religion was little more than the ridicule of the philosopher, the policy of the magistrate, and the mere habit of superstition with the populace; and, of consequence, in a state as favorable as may well be conceived for the introduction and rapid spread of a new religion.
Such, in a word, was the character, the extent, and facilities of communication possessed by the Roman Empire, as admirably to fit her to act the conspicuous part in the spread of the gospel for which Providence had prepared her.
A nod from the Roman throne made the world tremble. What started with a Roman influence reached the boundaries of that vast empire.*
* Of the peculiar facilities afforded by the Roman Empire for the universal spread of the gospel, take, for an example, her national roads and posts. From Rome to Scotland in the west and to Jerusalem on the east -- a distance of four thousand Roman miles— and from the imperial Capital through the heart of every province, there extended a national road by which even the remotest provinces were accessible. This made possible the widespread propagation of Christianity.
When, therefore, Paul brought the religion of Jesus into the forum and the palace, into the schools of philosophy, and the chief places of learning, a blow was struck which vibrated through every nerve of that vast body politic. And we need not be surprised at the triumphant declaration of the great apostle to the Gentiles, that, in less than half a century after the resurrection, “verily their sound had gone into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” [Pages 19-22]
6. See His wonder-working Hand stretched out to protect His people and to overrule men and events to the praise of His name and the furtherance of His gracious plans.
The emperor, Antonius, a persecutor of the Christian church, is warring with a barbarous people in Germany. His army is perishing with heat and thirst, and the enemy near. Being informed of a Christian legion in his army, who were said to obtain what they desired by there prayers, the emperor commanded them to call on their God for assistance. The entire legion fell on their knees and besought the Lord for rain. Suddenly the sky was overcast—a terrific storm of thunder and lightning burst on their enemies. They were panic-struck and completely routed, while a copious shower afforded the imperial troops ample refreshment. The heart of the emperor is turned to favor the new sect. The Christian’s God and the gospel is known and honored in the high places of imperial Rome. [23-24]
A similar purpose was achieved at a later period by the conversion of the emperor Philip. There is light in Rome, while yet the British Isle is covered with pagan darkness. Caractacus, with his family and his father Brennus, is carried prisoner of war to Rome. They embrace the Christian faith, and, after seven years, return to their native island, accompanied by three Christian preachers, one a Jew, who introduced the religion of Calvary, in the first century. ...
When, in the reign of the emperor Philip, the church had rest, and her ministers had quiet and comfort at home, [BUT] the apostolic and missionary spirit was declining. Yet a wide and effectual door was open to the heathen. Providence had a resource little thought of: Barbarian invaders carry away among their captives several Christian bishops, who, contrary to their expectations, are forced to become missionaries and preachers in foreign lands, and are the instruments of the conversion of many.... 
In a little town on the gulf of Nicomedia lived an obscure inn-keeper. Constantius, a Roman ambassador, returning from the court of Persia, lodges in the inn—becomes enamored of Helena, the inn-keeper’s daughter—marries her, and the son of their union they call Constantine. Constantius becomes a distinguished Roman general.... He divorces Helena and leaves her son to humiliation and disgrace. [24-25]
But Constantine was a chosen vessel. He signalized his valor in war, and in peace showed himself worthy to be the son of a Roman Emperor. His father dies, and the army constrains him to accept the imperial crown. On his way to Rome he encounters his formidable rivals. Rallying for battle, he sees (he says) in the air a cross, on which was written, BY THIS Conquer. He becomes a Christian--makes a cross the standard of his army, under which he fought and conquered.... 
The church had been withering under ten cruel persecutions. Long, dark and fearful had been her night. Now, the morning dawned.... For that moment in time, the church again had rest.... The Goths and Germans, the Iberians and Armenians [both bordering the Black Sea, see map], the refined Persians and the rude Abyssinian, the dwellers in India and Ethiopia, received, under the gracious reign of Constantine, the ambassadors of peace and pardon, and were gathered in to the fold of the good Shepherd.
The danger now lay on the side of prosperity -- and on this rock the newly launched vessel struck. Nevertheless, her extensions and unparalleled prosperity was an act of a wise and gracious Providence....
Nothing can be more intensely interesting than the phase of Providence at this particular epoch. While the gigantic fabric of pagan Rome is falling to decay -- while the huge image of her greatness and glory is crumbling to ruins, another kingdom is rising in all the beauty and vigor of youth, deriving strength from every opposition, towering above every human difficulty, bidding defiance to the gorgeous array of Roman power and Roman paganism, and soon waving the triumphant banner of the cross over the ruins of imperial Rome. A mighty hand was at work, as surely and irresistibly undermining, and removing out of the way, the huge colossus of Rome, as He was, with the same onward and resistless step, rearing up that kingdom which should never end.... [25-26]
The Iberians, a pagan people bordering on the Black Sea [see map], take captive in war a Christian female of great piety. They soon learn to respect, then to revere her holy deportment— and the more, on account of some remarkable answers to her prayers. Hence she was brought to the notice of the king, which led to the conversion of the king and queen, and to the introduction by them of Christian teachers to instruct their people. Thus another portion of the great desert was enclosed in the garden of the Lord, through the gracious interposition of an Almighty Providence. 
Again, the sister of the king of the Bulgarians, a Slavonic people, is, in the ninth century, carried captive to Constantinople—hears and embraces the truth of the gospel; returning home, spares no pains to turn her brother the king, from the vanity of his idols; but apparently to no effect, till a pestilence invades his dominions, when he is persuaded to pray to the God of the Christians. The plague is removed -- the king embraces Christianity, and sends to Constantinople for missionaries to teach his people. And another nation is added to the territory of Christianity. [26-27]
Thus did the "vine brought out of Egypt," which had taken deep root on the hills of Judah, spread its branches eastward and westward, till its praises were sung on the Ganges and the Chinese sea, and echoed back from the mountain-tops of the farthest known west.
In all it leading features, in all its grand aggressive movements and rich acquisitions, we trace the mighty, overruling hand of Providence. Christian missions did but follow, at a respectful distance, this magnificence agency of Heaven. Missions overcame their thousands, providential interpositions their tens of thousands. He that sat upon the white horse, who is called Faithful and True, whose name is the Word of God, rode forth victoriously to the conquest of the world.... In the further prosecution of the subject, the agency of Providence will be illustrated by means of a variety of historical events....
The art of printing and paper-making
The invention of the mariner's compass
The discovery and settlement of America
The opening to Christian nations of India and the East by the Cape of Good Hope
The reformation of the 16th century.
The expulsion of the Moors from Spain.
The destruction of the Spanish invincible armada.
The Church has seen days of darkness, of persecution, of apparent retrogression, and sometimes has seemed almost extinct. She has had her nights, long and gloomy—her winters, protracted and dreary. But is the night less conducive to man’s comfort and prosperity, or the earth’s fertility, than the day?...
The dark days of the church have been days of preparation. When eclipsed as to worldly prosperity—when crushed beneath the foot of despotism, or bleeding from the hand of persecution, she has been gathering strength and preparing for a new display of her beauties, and for a wider extension of her territories. A thousand years with the Lord is but as one day. Time is but a moment to eternity.
The few generations of depression in Egypt, when the people of God were learning obedience, and gathering strength for their first exhibition as a nation and a church, was but a brief season to prepare for their future prosperity and glory. The night of a thousand years which preceded the morning of the glorious Reformation, and the more glorious events which were to follow, was no more than the necessary preparatory season for that onward movement of the church. A complete revolution was to transpire in the political affairs of the world—the ecclesiastical world was to be turned upside down....
The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. It matters not in what part of the meal it is put, or that the quantity of leaven is small, or that it is lost sight of in the mass. It works and ferments, and pervades the whole mass.... [28-29]
When seemingly overwhelmed in the commotions of political revolutions—when seemingly crushed beneath the ponderous foot of persecution, her real progress has not been arrested. These have been as the grinding of the corn, preparing it for the action of the leaven—the breaking to pieces, and the removing out of the way, the things that shall be removed, and the establishing of those things which shall abide forever. 
Chapter 7: God in Modern Missions (18th Century)
The Moravians & Count Zinzendorf
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