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But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.—1 Cor. i. 23, 24.

THE sufferings of the Son of God for the sins of men, as they are a subject never improper to be insisted on; so they are more especially seasonable at this time,22   Preached on Good Friday. which the Christian church hath for so many ages set apart for the solemn commemoration of them, in order to our more due preparation for the receiving the sacrament at Easter; which next after the Lord’s day (which was set apart by the apostles for a weekly commemoration of our Saviour’s resurrection) is the first and most solemn festival that is taken notice of in ecclesiastical antiquity, to be generally observed by Christians; at which time all Christians that were admitted to those sacred mysteries, did receive the holy sacrament; and, for this reason, I have pitched upon this subject at this time.

Among all the prejudices that were raised against the Christian religion, when it first appeared in the world, this was the greatest of all other, that the 289first author of this doctrine should come to so miserable and shameful an end, as to die upon the cross; that the Son of God should be “delivered into the hands of men,” to be so cruelly and ignominiously handled. This both Jews and Greeks laid hold on, as the most popular objection against Christianity, and matter of just reproach to that religion, which pretended to be brought from heaven by the Son of God: for though he called himself the Son of God, yet he died like a man; and, not only so, but suffered as a malefactor.

But, notwithstanding the odium of this objection, the apostles of our Lord and Saviour, who were sent by him to publish his doctrine to the world, did not, in the least, endeavour to hide and dissemble the matter; but did openly, and without disguise, declare to the world, that he in whom they believed, and endeavoured to persuade others to believe, was for speaking the truth, which he had heard from God, arraigned at Jerusalem, and there “by wicked hands crucified and slain.” And though they knew that this seemed very foolish and absurd, both to Jews and Gentiles, whom they designed to convert to Christianity, and did extremely prejudice them against it; yet nevertheless they persisted in the course they had begun, leaving God to do his own work, in his own way; and they found the success of it. For, though it was a very plain story which they told the world, and appeared even ridiculous to those who thought themselves the wisest and ablest judges of these matters; yet being the truth of God, it had a mighty efficacy upon the minds of men, notwithstanding all the prejudice that was raised against it. “It pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe;” by this 290doctrine which seemed so absurd to human reason, to gain many to the belief and entertainment of it.

Indeed, it was not suited to the genius either of the Jews or gentiles; for they, according to their different ways of institution, expected quite another thing: (ver. 22.) “The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom.”—“The Jews require a sign:” they expected the apostles should have given some extraordinary testimony from heaven, such as was Elias’s calling for fire down from heaven, to consume those that opposed and resisted them. Such things as these they read of the prophets in their law, and they expected the Messias would do the same, and greater things. And though in truth he did so, wrought more and greater miracles than Moses and all the prophets had done before him, yet their curiosity was not satisfied; and, not withstanding the great works which he did among them, they were continually importuning him for a sign: (Matt. xii. 38.) “Then certain of the scribes and pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.” This seems a strange and unreasonable demand, considering the many and great works he had done among them, which were so generally known. So that, in all probability, it was some particular and peculiar kind of miracle which they desired, as appears from Matt xvi. 1. “The pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting, desired him, that he would shew them a sign from heaven.” He had wrought many miracles on earth, in healing the sick, and opening the eyes of the blind, and the ears of the deaf, in cleansing the lepers, and making the lame to walk; but these they looked upon as an inferior sort of miracles, here was all this while no extraordinary thing immediately from 291heaven; if they could once see that, they would be satisfied. But when no such thing was done, and at last God permitted him to die upon the cross, as an impostor and seditious person; and it appeared plainly that he, who pretended to free others from diseases, could not save himself from death: this confirmed them in their unbelief, and upon good reason as they thought. And that this was a sign which they particularly expected, and thought they had cause so to do, appears by their upbraiding of him with the want of it in the time of his suffering: (Matt. xxvii. 39.) “And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it up in three days, save thyself: if thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” And it was not only the malice and ignorance of the common people that objected this to him, but even the priests, and scribes, and elders, insisted upon the same thing (ver. 41-43.) “Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others, himself he cannot save: if he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.” By this passage you see what it was the Jews expected; that if our Saviour had been the Son of God, he should have saved himself; when they went about to crucify him, that God should have rescued him out of their hands, and given some extraordinary testimony from heaven to his innocency; and, for this reason, the preaching of Christ crucified was very offensive to them: “The Jews require a sign; but we preach Christ crucified.”


Such was the temper and disposition of the Jews: but now the gentiles, according to their way of institution, expected that the apostles should have discoursed to them upon philosophical principles, and have demonstrated things to them in their way. “The Greeks seek after wisdom;” they were great searchers after wisdom and knowledge, and they valued nothing but what had the appearance of it, and what was delivered with great sharpness of wit and reasoning, and set off with art and eloquence. Had the apostles pretended to some new theory of natural or moral philosophy, and discoursed to them about the first principles of all things, about the chief good, or about the nature of the soul, they would have heard them with great patience and delight. Nothing but deep and subtle speculations, about these kind of arguments, did relish with them, and please their palates. But the history of our Saviour, his life, and death, and resurrection, and the plain precepts of his doctrine, were dry and insipid things to them, and were so far from having a shew of wisdom and philosophy, that they appeared foolish and ridiculous to them.

But the design of God in the Christian religion, being not to please the humour and gratify the curiosity of men; but really to do them good, and to reform the manners of mankind, he used quite another method; which, how offensive soever it might be to those who thought themselves wise, yet it was really the wisest and most powerful means to that end: so the apostle tells us here in the text: “But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness: but unto them that are called, (that is, to those whose minds are duly prepared to consider things impartially, and to 293receive the truth) the power of God, and the wisdom of God;” a most wise and powerful means to reform the world, an eminent instance of the Divine power and wisdom.

In these words we have these two things considerable:

First, The exception which the world took at the doctrine of the gospel, upon account of our Saviour’s sufferings: Christ crucified was “to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness.”

Secondly, That notwithstanding the seeming un reasonableness and absurdity of it, it was a most wise and effectual contrivance for the end to which it was designed and appointed: “But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” I shall speak something to each of these, as briefly and plainly as I can. I begin with the

First, The exception which the world took at the doctrine of the gospel, upon account of our Saviour’s sufferings. The world were generally offended at it, but not all upon the same account; the Jews took one kind of exception against it, and the heathen another: “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” They were both offended at the same thing, the low and suffering condition of our Saviour; but not upon the same reason. The Jews thought, that this mean appearance and condition of our Saviour, was unsuitable to the power of God; and the heathen, that it was not agreeable to the wisdom of men.

The Jews, from the tradition of their fathers, to which (just as the church of Rome does now-a-days) they paid a greater reverence than to the written 294word of God, were possessed with a strong persuasion, that the Messias whom they expected, and was foretold by the prophets, was to be a great temporal prince, to appear in great splendour and glory, to be a mighty conqueror, and not only to free them from the Roman yoke, which they were then under; but to subdue all nations to them, and so bring them under their dominion and government. And this did so generally prevail among them, that even the disciples of our Saviour were as strongly possessed with this conceit as any of the rest; insomuch that the mother of James and John made it her solemn request to our Saviour, that “her two sons might sit, one on his right-hand, and the other on his left, in his kingdom.” And though he had told his disciples just before, that he “must go up to Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the scribes and pharisees, and be betrayed and put to death;” yet the other conceit of his temporal dominion and greatness did so possess their minds, that “they could not understand this saying, and it was hid from them that they perceived it not,” as St. Luke tells us. (Luke ix. 45.) Nay, even after his death and resurrection, when he appeared to them, this still stuck in their minds, as appears by that question which they asked him immediately before his ascension: (Acts i. 6.) “When they were come together, they asked of him, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” They took it for granted, the Messias would do it one time or other, and they inquire of him, whether that were the time.

So that the Jews being so firmly fixed in this conceit of the temporal reign of the Messias, nothing could be a greater stumbling-block to them, than 295the mean and suffering condition in which our Saviour appeared. The meanness of his birth and life was a great objection against him; but when they saw him put to death so ignominiously, and that he did not then shew his glory and power, to save himself from that cruel and shameful death, they could rather believe any thing than that this was the Messias foretold, and whom they had so long expected. They made full account that the Messias, whenever he came, would live in great splendour and glory, and do great things for the advantage and honour of their nation; the least they expected from him, was their deliverance from the Roman yoke, and the establishing of the throne of David for ever; or if his beginning had been obscure, that he would at last break forth in great lustre and majesty; or if they could have supposed that the Messias should be persecuted, and condemned, and nailed to the cross, yet they doubted not but then God would have given testimony to him by some sign from heaven, and have rescued him from the cross in a miraculous manner: but seeing nothing of all this, nothing but poverty and meanness, reproach and suffering attending him, they concluded, whatever miracles he pretended to, this could not be the Son of God, the true Messias.

On the other side, the heathen philosophers, who were not possessed with these conceits about the Messias, they were offended at the unreasonableness and folly, as they thought, of the apostles doctrine, who went about to persuade the world, that a man, who had lately suffered and was crucified at Jerusalem, was a great prophet come into the world; nay, the Son of God, in whom all men ought to believe, and by whom they ought to hope for life and salvation: 296as if it were reasonable to think, that God would have exposed the most innocent and virtuous person that ever was, to so great reproach and sufferings, that the Son of God should die, and that life and immortality were to be hoped for from him, who was crucified and put to death. This they looked upon as a story so ill-framed, that to all wise and sagacious men, it destroyed its own credit and belief. For though they said he was risen again from the dead, yet before that could be entertained by men of philosophical minds, there were many deep points to be determined, as concerning the nature of the soul, and whether it can subsist separately from the body, and whether a body once dead can be restored to life again, and re-united to the soul.

And as for his doctrine, which the apostles pretended to deliver, it was a plain and rude thing, without art or eloquence, nothing of deep speculation, or strict demonstration in it: in short, so far from being worthy of “a teacher come from God,” that it was below the pitch of an ordinary philosopher. These and such-like things were, in all probability, the exceptions which the heathen philosophers took as the apostles preaching, concerning our Saviour’s death and his doctrine; and they had some colour in them.

But, upon impartial examination, it will appear, that, notwithstanding these exceptions, the sufferings of our Saviour, considered with all the circumstances that belong to them, were a very wise and effectual method made use of by Almighty God, for the reforming and saving the world. Which brings me to the

Second thing propounded to speak to from these words; namely, To vindicate the wisdom of this 297design and contrivance of Almighty God, for the salvation of mankind by the sufferings of his Son, from the seeming absurdity and unreasonableness of it. “But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” And,

First, The Jews had no sufficient ground to be so much offended at the sufferings of the Messias. For,

I. They had no reason to expect that the Messias should be a great temporal prince, if they had attended to the predictions of their prophets concerning him, which ought to have been their rule: for they affirm no such thing of him. All that they say of him, plainly refers to a spiritual kingdom, that he should “rule in righteousness,” that he should “preach the gospel to the poor, and open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf, and make the lame walk;” that he should “finish transgression, and make an end of sin, and make intercession for iniquity, and bring in ever lasting righteousness.” So that, if they had not entertained a very groundless and carnal conceit concerning him, they could not so widely have mistaken the ancient prophecies of him, which ought to have guided them in these matters, and which they might have seen all plainly fulfilled in the person of our Saviour.

II. The predictions concerning him do most expressly foretel his death and sufferings, and that with very particular circumstances: David in the 22d Psalm: Isaiah quite throughout his 53d chapter: and Daniel does particularly point out the time when he should be cut off. So that they had all the reason in the world to expect that the Messias, when he came, should be “despised and rejected 298of men, a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief;” that he should be scourged and buffeted, oppressed and afflicted, and at last “cut off out of the land of the living.” Nay, if it had been other wise, they had had no reason to have owned him for the true Messias.

III. As for signs to evidence him to be the Son of God; though God did not gratify their curiosity as to the nature and manner of them, yet he gave the greatest testimonies that ever were given to any prophet, and abundantly enough to satisfy any reasonable man, that he was “a teacher come from God.” Indeed, his miracles were not generally so prodigious and amazing: but they were many and public, they were useful and beneficial to mankind; and for that reason, more likely to come from God. He did not call for fire from heaven to destroy his enemies; but he gave sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf, and health to those that were sick of the most dangerous and inveterate diseases, and (which was always reckoned among the greatest and most undoubted kind of miracles) life to the dead. And when he himself was put to death by the malice of the Jews, though he did not “come down from the cross,” and was not rescued from his sufferings by an immediate hand from heaven, to triumph over the malice and cruelty which they were exercising upon him (which was the miracle they required to be shewn), yet God was not wanting to give testimony to him in a most remarkable manner, by prodigies which immediately followed his death; in the strange darkness which came upon the land; in the terrible earthquake which rent the veil of the temple, and tore the rocks asunder; in the opening of the graves, and the 299rising of the dead; and, lastly, in his own miraculous resurrection, the third day after he was crucified: so that here was no sign wanting in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, to convince their obstinacy and unbelief, unless it were that very sign which they demanded. God did enough to satisfy every man’s reason; and he is not wont to gratify the humour and curiosity of men. If men be so unreasonable as to expect this from him, God lets such men continue in their wilful blindness and infidelity.

Secondly, Neither had the heathen philosophers reason, upon account of the story of our Saviour’s sufferings, to look upon the gospel as so absurd and unreasonable a thing; as will, I hope, evidently appear, if you will be pleased to consider with me these following particulars:

I. That there is nothing more inculcated in the writings of the wisest and most famous of the heathen philosophers than this, that worldly greatness and prosperity is not to be admired, but despised by a truly wise man. Aristotle, in his Ethics, makes it the property of a magnanimous and great spirit, not to admire greatness and power, and victory, and riches. So that, according to their own principles, our Saviour was not to be despised upon account of his meanness and sufferings. He might be a great prophet and come from God, though he enjoyed nothing of worldly greatness and prosperity.

II. They tell us, likewise, that men may be very virtuous and good, and dearly beloved of God, and yet be liable to great miseries and sufferings. And to this purpose I could bring you almost innumerable testimonies out of the books of the philosophers. 300Max. Tyrius, the Platonist, speaking of Ulysses, says, that “the gods forced him to wander, and beg, and wear rags; and suffered him to be reproached and reviled, for the love and friend ship that they bare to him.” Epictetus, a poor slave, but inferior to none of all the philosophers for true virtue and wisdom, thanks the gods for his mean condition, and says, “He did not believe himself to be one jot the less beloved by them for that reason; and that he was not cast into a state of poverty and contempt, because the gods hated him, but that he might be fit to be a witness to others.”

III. They tell us, likewise, that a state of affliction and suffering is so far from rendering a man unfit to reform the world, and to be an example of virtue, that none so fit as those that are in such circumstances. Arrian, in his dissertations of Epictetus, describing a man fit to reform the world, whom he calls “the apostle and messenger, the minister and preacher of God to mankind,” gives this character of him: “He must (says he) be without house and harbour, and destitute of all worldly accommodations; (just as it is said of our Saviour, that the “Son of man had not where to lay his head;”) he must be armed with such a patience by the greatest sufferings, as if he were a stone and devoid of sense; he must be a spectacle of misery and contempt to the world.” And, to mention no more, Plato, in the second book of his Commonwealth, when he would represent a righteous man giving the most unquestionable testimony to the world of his virtue, “Let him (says he) be stripped of all things in this world, except his righteousness; let him be poor and diseased, and accounted a wicked and unjust man: let him be whipped, 301and tormented, and crucified as a malefactor; and yet all this while retain his integrity;” which does so exactly agree with our Saviour’s condition, that had he not wrote before his time, one would have thought he had alluded to it.

IV. As it seems very convenient, (I am not so bold as to say it was necessary, and that God had no other way to bring about the salvation of men; for what are we, that we should prescribe to God, and set bounds to infinite wisdom?) I say, as it seems very reasonable, that, in order to our salvation, the Son of God, who was the author of it, should become man, both that he might be an example of holiness, and an expiation for sin; and that he should be born after the manner of other men, to satisfy us, that he was really of the same nature with us, that so he might converse more familiarly with us, and might be a more easy, and encouraging, and imitable example of all holiness and virtue; so likewise was it convenient, that he should be subject to the miseries and sufferings of our nature, that, by passing through the several states and conditions of humanity, he might have an experimental knowledge of the sufferings that human nature is liable to; and from his own sense of our infirmities, might be a more merciful and compassionate high-priest. And this the apostle expressly takes notice of, (Heb. v.) that it was convenient that “our High-priest should be taken from among men,” that he might learn to be compassionate, by knowing experimentally what it was to be tempted and afflicted; the knowledge of experience being the strongest motive and incitement to piety; and consequently to give us the greater assurance of his tender affection to us.


It was of great use that he should live in so mean and afflicted a condition, to confound the pride, and vanity, and fantastry of the world, and to convince men of these two great truths, that God may love those whom he afflicts, and that men may be innocent, and virtuous, and contented, in the midst of poverty, and reproach, and suffering. Had our blessed Saviour been a great worldly prince, his influence and example might possibly have made more hypocrites and servile converts, but it would not have tended one whit to make men more inwardly good and virtuous. The great arguments that must do this, must be fetched, not from the pomp and prosperity of this world, but from the happiness and misery of the other. Besides, had our Saviour appeared in any great power and splendour, the Christian religion could not have so clearly been acquitted from the suspicion of a worldly interest and design.

And then the Scripture assigns very plain and excellent reasons of his suffering of death; that he might make expiation for the sins of the whole world, that he might take away sin by the sacrifice of himself, and put an end to that troublesome and unreasonable way of worship by sacrifice, which was in use both among Jews and heathens, and that, by conquering death, and him that had the power of it, he might “deliver those, who, through fear of death, were all their life-time subject to bondage,” as the apostle speaks, (Heb. ii. 14.) For though the death of Christ, barely considered in itself, be far from an encouragement to us to hope for immortality; yet the death of Christ, considered together with his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into heaven, is the clearest, and most sensible, 303and most popular demonstration that ever was in the world, of another life after this, and a blessed immortality. So that, considering our Saviour rose from the dead, it is far from being ridiculous, to rely upon one that died, for our hopes of immortality.

V. As for the plainness of our Saviour’s doctrine and of the instruments whereby it was propagated, this is so far from being an objection against it, that it is the great commendation of it. It contains a plain narrative of our Saviour’s life, and miracles, and death, and resurrection, and ascension into heaven, and a few plain precepts of life; but the most excellent and reasonable, and the freest from all vanity and folly, that are to be met with in any book in the world. And can any thing be more worthy of God, or more likely to proceed from him, than so plain and useful a doctrine as this? Lawgivers do not use to deliver their laws in eloquent language, to set them off with flourish of speech, and to persuade men to a liking of them by subtle and artificial insinuations; but plainly, and in few words, to declare their will and pleasure.

And for the instruments God was pleased to make use of for the publishing of this doctrine, we grant they were generally rude and unlearned men, and our religion hath no reason to be ashamed of it; for this was very agreeable to the simplicity of the whole design, that all things should be managed in the plainest manner; that Christianity might be introduced in such a way, as there might be no possible suspicion of a, human contrivance, or worldly design in it.

The religion itself was simple and plain, there were no worldly inducements to the embracing of it, 304but all imaginable discouragements upon that account; the instruments of propagating it were simple and plain men, unassisted by learning or art, by secular power and authority; which is so far from being a disparagement to our religion, that it is a great reputation to it, and a plain evidence of its Divine original, that it was from God, and was countenanced and carried on by him, “not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord.”

And in truth, considering the nature of this doctrine, which consisted either of plain matter of fact, or of easy and familiar precepts, and rules for a good life, the apostles were as tit for the propagating of it, as any sort of persons in the world: for it did not require depth of understanding, or sharpness of wit to comprehend it, and declare it to others; but honesty and integrity of mind, zeal and industry to promote it; in which qualities the apostles excelled the philosophers and best learned persons in the world: and provided an instrument be sufficient and competent for its end, it matters not how plain and unpolished it be; for instruments are not intended for ornaments, but for use. Now the apostles of our Saviour, though they were illiterate and unbred, were as competent witnesses of matter of fact, as any other persons: for there is no wit and learning required, to relate what a man hath seen and heard. Nay, the more simple and plain, the less eloquent and artificial any relation is, the more likely it is to be true, and to gain belief.

Thus you see, that, notwithstanding the seeming unreasonableness and absurdity of the doctrine of the gospel, it is a most wise and effectual contrivance for the reforming and saving of mankind. “But unto them that are called, both Jews and 305gentiles, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”

The proper inference from all this is, to stir us up to a thankful acknowledgment and admiration of the wisdom and goodness of God, in the salvation of men by Jesus Christ. We are most apt to admire that wisdom which finds out such means to an end, as human wisdom would have been least apt to devise and hit upon; and yet the more we consider them, the more we must approve their fitness. Such is the design of the recovery and redemption of mankind, by the death and sufferings of the Son of God. However it may appear to rash and inconsiderate men, who judge superficially, and according to the uppermost appearances of things, to be a very un likely and improbable design; yet, upon a thorough and impartial examination of things, we shall find that God’s way is the wisest, and that, in the management of this design, he hath outdone the utmost prudence and wisdom of men, and hath ordered things to infinitely more advantage, than they would have been, in any of those methods which the short and imperfect wisdom of carnal men would have been most apt to pitch upon. Ignorant, and conceited, and prejudiced men, may censure it for folly; but the angels, more intelligent and discerning creatures than we are, and of a deeper reach, do look upon it with wonder and astonishment. So the apostle tells us: (1 Pet. i. 12.) where, speaking of the gospel, he calls it a thing “which the angels desire to look into.” An allusion to the cherubims, who looked earnestly upon the mercy-seat which was over the ark, as if they would pry into it.

And then let us acknowledge the infinite goodness of God, in saving us by the death and sufferings 306of his Son, us vile and miserable sinners. Had we been the most innocent and righteous, and the dearest friends to him in the world, what could he have done more? How could he possibly have testified greater love to us, than to give his Son to die for us? Here is goodness without bounds, love with out parallel and example; for “greater love than this hath no man, that a man should lay down his life for his friend.” This is the highest pitch that human affection ever attained to, to die for one’s friend: but herein hath God commended his love to us, that, while we were enemies, he gave his Son to die for us.

This is that which we are to commemorate at this season, and by the commemoration thereof, to prepare ourselves for the receiving of the blessed sacrament of his body and blood, which was broken and shed for us. The consideration whereof, as it should excite in us a hearty sorrow and repentance for sin, so should it also inflame us with love to Christ, who, by suffering such things for us, hath laid upon us an eternal obligation of love and obedience to him. The remembrance of whose death should not only put us into a present fit and passion of grief and love, but should be the ground of lasting affections and resolutions; the thoughts of what he hath done and suffered for us, should make us ambitious to do or suffer any thing for him. What should not we be willing to part with for him, who did not think his own life and his glory dear to him for our sakes? Did he die for us? and shall we think much to live to him? Did he become miserable for our sakes? and shall we think much to become holy and happy for his sake and for our own?

Such affections and holy resolutions the consideration 307of our Saviour’s death and sufferings should be apt to excite in us. What grief, what love, what thankfulness, should the remembrance of his dying love work in us! when we consider seriously the many and the mighty blessings and benefits which flow to us out of his wounds, and are taking the cup of salvation into our hands, how should “our souls, and all that is within us, bless his holy name, who pardoneth all our iniquities, and healeth all our diseases; who redeemed our life from destruction, and crowneth us with loving-kindness and tender mercy.” To him, therefore, our gracious and good God, let us give all thanks, adoration, and praise. Amen.

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