The Ruler of the Waves
Written by: Ryle, J.C. Posted on: 02/04/2004
The Ruler of the Waves
By J.C. Ryle
"And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?" —Mark 4:37-40.
I wish professing Christians in this day studied the four gospels more than they do. They were written to make us acquainted with Christ. The Holy Ghost has told us the story of his life and death, his sayings and his doings, four times over. Four different inspired hands have drawn the picture of the Saviour. His ways, his manners, his feelings, his wisdom, his grace, his patience, his love, his power, are graciously unfolded to us by four different witnesses. Ought not the sheep to be familiar with the Shepherd? Ought not the patient to be familiar with the Physician? Ought not the bride to be familiar with the Bridegroom? Ought not the sinner to be familiar with the Saviour? The gospels were written to make them familiar with Christ, and therefore I wish men to study the gospels.
On whom must you and I build our souls if we would be accepted with God? We must build on the rock, Christ. From whom must you and I draw that grace of the Spirit which we daily need in order to be fruitful? We must draw from the vine, Christ. To whom must we look for sympathy when earthly friends fail us or die? We must look to our elder brother, Christ. By whom must our prayers be presented, if they are to be heard on high? They must be presented to our advocate, Christ. With whom do we hope to spend eternity? With the King of kings, Christ. Surely we cannot know this Christ too well. Surely there is not a word, nor a deed, nor a day, nor a step, nor a thought in the record of his life, which ought not to be precious to us. We should labor to be familiar with every line that is written about Jesus.
Come now, and let us study together a page in our Master's history. Let us consider what we may learn from the verses of Scripture which stand at the head of this tract. You see Jesus there crossing the lake of Galilee in a boat with his disciples. You see a sudden storm arise while He is asleep. The waves beat into the boat, and fill it. Death seems to be close at hand. The frightened disciples awake their Master and cry for help. He arises and rebukes the wind and waves, and at once there is a calm. He mildly reproves the faithless fears of his companions, and all is over. Such is the picture. It is one full of deep instruction. Come now, and let us examine what we are meant to learn.
I. Learn first of all, that following Christ will not prevent your having earthly sorrows and troubles.
Here are the chosen disciples of the Lord Jesus in great anxiety. The faithful little flock which believed when priests and scribes and Pharisees were all alike unbelieving, is allowed by the Shepherd to be much disquieted. The fear of death breaks in upon them like an armed man. The deep water seems likely to go over their souls. Peter, James, and John, the pillars of the church about to be planted in the world, are much distressed.
Perhaps they had not reckoned on all this. Perhaps they had expected that Christ's service would at any rate lift them above the reach of earthly trials. Perhaps they thought that He who could raise the dead, and heal the sick, and feed multitudes with a few loaves, and cast out devils with a word-He would never allow his servants to be sufferers upon earth. Perhaps they had supposed he would always grant them smooth journeys, fine weather, an easy course, and freedom from trouble and care.
If the disciples thought so, they were much mistaken. The Lord Jesus taught them that a man may be one of his chosen servants, and yet have to go through many an anxiety, and endure many a pain.
It is good to understand this clearly. It is good to understand that Christ's service never did secure a man from all the ills that flesh is heir to, and never will. If you are a believer, you must reckon on having your share of sickness and pain, of sorrow and tears, of losses and crosses, of deaths and bereavements, of partings and separations, of vexations and disappointments, so long as you are in the body. Christ never undertakes that you shall get to heaven without these. He has undertaken that all who come to him shall have all things pertaining to life and godliness. But he has never undertaken that he will make them prosperous, rich, or healthy, and that death shall never come to their family.
I have the privilege of being one of Christ's ambassadors. In his name I can offer eternal life to any man, woman, or child who is willing to have it. In his name I do offer pardon, peace, grace, glory, to any son or daughter of Adam who reads this booklet. But I dare not offer that person worldly prosperity as a part and parcel of the gospel. I dare not offer him long life, an increased income, and freedom from pain. I dare not promise the man who takes up the cross and follows Christ, that in following him he shall never meet with a storm.
I know well that many do not like these terms. They would prefer having Christ and good health, Christ and plenty of money, Christ and no deaths in their family, Christ and no wearing cares, Christ and a perpetual morning without clouds. But they do not like Christ and the cross, Christ and tribulation, Christ and the conflict, Christ and the howling wind, Christ and the storm.
Is this the thought of your heart? Believe me, if it is, you are very wrong. Listen to me, and I will try to show you [that] you have much yet to learn.
How should you know who are true Christians, if following Christ was the way to be free from trouble? How should we discern the wheat from the chaff, if it were not for the winnowing of trial? How should we know whether men served Christ for his own sake or from selfish motives, if his service brought health and wealth with it as a matter of course? The winds of winter soon show us which of the trees are evergreen, and which are not. The storms of affliction and care are useful in the same way. They discover whose faith is real, and whose is nothing but profession and form.
How would the great work of sanctification go on in a man if he had no trial? Trouble is often the only fire which will burn away the dross that clings to our hearts. Trouble is the pruning-knife which the great Husbandman employs in order to make us fruitful in good works. The harvest of the Lord's field is seldom ripened by sunshine only. It must go through its days of wind and rain and storm.
If you desire to serve Christ and be saved, I entreat you to take the Lord on his own terms. Make up your mind to meet with your share of crosses and sorrows, and then you will not be surprised. For want of understanding this, many seem to run well for a season, and then turn back, in disgust and are cast away.
If you profess to be a child of God, leave to the Lord Jesus to sanctify you in his own way. Rest satisfied that he never makes any mistakes. Be sure that he does all things well. The winds may howl around you, and the waters swell; but fear not. "He is leading you by the right way, that he may bring you to a city of habitation." (Psa. 107:7).
II. Learn, in the second place, that the Lord Jesus Christ is truly and really man.
There are words used in this little history which, like many other passages in the gospels, bring out this truth in a very striking way. You are told that when the waves began to break on the ship, Jesus was in the hinder part, "asleep on a pillow." He was weary; and who can wonder at it, after reading the account given in the fourth of Mark. After laboring all day to do good to souls-after preaching in the open air to vast multitudes, Jesus was fatigued. Surely, if the sleep of the laboring man is sweet, much more must have been the sleep of our blessed Lord.
I ask you to settle deeply in your mind this great truth, that Jesus Christ was verily and indeed man. He was equal to the Father in all things, and the eternal God. But he was also man, and took part of flesh and blood, and was made like unto us in all things, sin only excepted. He had a body like our own. Like us, he was born of a woman. Like us, he grew and increased in stature. Like us, he was often hungry and thirsty, and faint and weary. Like us, he ate and drank, rested and slept. Like us, he sorrowed and wept and felt. It is all very wonderful, but so it is. He that made the heavens went to and fro as a poor weary man on earth. He that ruled over principalities and powers in heavenly places, took on him a frail body like our own. He that might have dwelt for ever in the glory which he had with the Father, amid the praises of legions of angels, came down to earth and dwelt as a man among sinful men. Surely this fact alone is an amazing miracle of condescension, grace, pity, and love.
I find a deep mine of comfort in this thought, that Jesus is perfect man no less than perfect God. He in whom I am told by Scripture to trust, is not only a great High-priest, but a feeling High-priest. He is not only a powerful Saviour, but a sympathizing Saviour. He is not only the Son of God mighty to save, but the Son of man able to feel.
Who does not know that sympathy is one of the sweetest things left to us in this sinful world? It is one of the bright seasons in our dark journey here below, when we can find a person who enters into our troubles, and goes along with us in our anxieties; who can weep when we weep, and rejoice when we rejoice.
Sympathy is far better than money, and far rarer too. Thousands can give who know not what it is to feel. Sympathy has the greatest power to draw us and to open our hearts. Proper and correct counsel often falls dead and useless on a heavy heart. Cold advice often makes us shut up, shrink, and withdraw into ourselves, when tendered in the day of trouble. But genuine sympathy in such a day will call out all our better feelings, if we have any, and obtain an influence over us when nothing else can. Give me the friend who, though poor in gold and silver, has always ready a sympathizing heart.
Our God knows all this well. He knows the very secrets of man's heart. He knows the ways by which that heart is most easily approached, and the springs by which that heart is most readily moved. He has wisely provided that the Saviour of the gospel should be feeling as well as mighty. He has given us one who has not only a strong hand to pluck us as brands from the burning, but a sympathizing heart, on which the laboring and heavy-laden may find rest.
I see a marvelous proof of love and wisdom in the union of two natures in Christ's person. It was marvelous love in our Saviour to condescend to go through weakness and humiliation for our sakes, ungodly rebels as we are. It was marvelous wisdom to fit himself in this way to be the very Friend of friends, who could not only save man, but meet him on his own ground. I want one able to perform all things needful to redeem my soul. This Jesus can do, for he is the eternal Son of God. I want one able to understand my weakness and infirmities, and to deal gently with my soul, while tied to a body of death. This, again, Jesus can do, for He was the Son of man, and had flesh and blood like my own. Had my Saviour been God only, I might perhaps have trusted him, but I never could have come near to him without fear. Had my Saviour been man only, I might have loved him; but I never could have felt sure that he was able to take away my sins. But, blessed be the Lord, my Saviour is God as well as man, and man as well as God-God, and so able to deliver me; man, so able to feel with me. Almighty power and deepest sympathy are met together in one glorious person, Jesus Christ, my Lord. Surely a believer in Christ has a strong consolation. He may well trust, and not be afraid.
If you know what it is to go to the throne of grace for mercy and pardon, do not forget that the Mediator by whom you draw near to God is the man Christ Jesus.
Your soul's business is in the hand of a High-priest who can be touched with the feeling of your infirmities. You have not to do with a being of so high and glorious a nature, that your mind can in no wise comprehend him. You have to do with Jesus, who had a body like your own, and was a man upon earth like yourself. He well knows that world through which you are struggling, for he dwelt in the midst of it thirty-three years. He well knows the contradiction of sinners, which so often discourages you, for he endured it himself. He well knows the art and cunning of your spiritual enemy the devil, for he wrestled with him in the wilderness. Surely with such an advocate you may well feel bold.
If you know what it is to apply to the Lord Jesus for spiritual comfort in earthly troubles, you should well remember the days of his flesh, and his human nature.
You are applying to one who knows your feelings by experience, and has drunk deep of the bitter cup, for he was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Jesus knows the heart of a man, the bodily pains of a man, the difficulties of a man, for he was a man himself, and had flesh and blood upon earth. He sat wearied by the well at Sychar. He wept over the grave of Lazarus at Bethany. He sweat as it were great drops of blood at Gethsemane. He groaned with anguish at Calvary. He is no stranger to your sensations. He is acquainted with every thing that belongs to human nature, sin only excepted.
Are you poor and needy? So also was Jesus. The foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, but the Son of man had not where to lay his head. He dwelt in a despised city. Men used to say, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" John 1:46. He was esteemed a carpenter's son. He preached in a borrowed boat, rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed ass, and was buried in a borrowed tomb.
Are you alone in the world, and neglected by those who ought to love you? So also was Jesus. He came unto his own, and they received him not. He came to be a Messiah to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and they rejected him. The princes of this world would not acknowledge him. The few that followed him were publicans and fishermen. And even these at the last forsook him, and were scattered every man to his own place.
Are you misunderstood, misrepresented, slandered, and persecuted? So also was Jesus. He was called a glutton and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans, a Samaritan, a madman, and a devil. His character was belied. False charges were laid against him. An unjust sentence was passed upon him, and though innocent, he was condemned as a malefactor, and as such died on the cross.
Does Satan tempt you, and offer horrid suggestions to your mind? So also did he tempt Jesus. He bade him distrust God's fatherly providence. "Command these stones to be made bread." He proposed to him to tempt God by exposing himself to unnecessary danger. "Cast thyself down" from the pinnacle of the temple. He suggested to him to obtain the kingdoms of the world for his own, by one little act of submission to himself. "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me."
Do you ever feel great agony and conflict of mind? Do you feel in darkness, as if God had left you? So did Jesus. Who can tell the extent of the sufferings of mind he went through in the garden? Who can measure the depth of his soul's pain when he cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
Ah, it is impossible to conceive a Saviour more suited to the wants of man's heart than our Lord Jesus Christ; suited not only by his power, but by his sympathy; suited not only by his divinity, but by his humanity. Labor, I beseech you, to get firmly impressed on your mind that Christ the refuge of souls is man as well as God. Honor him as King of kings, and Lord of lords. But while you do this, never forget that he had a body, and was a man. Grasp this truth, and never let it go. The unhappy Socinian errs fearfully when he says that Christ was only man, and not God. But let not the rebound from that error make you forget that while Christ was very God, he was also very man.
Listen not for a moment to the wretched argument of the Roman-Catholic, when he tells you that the Virgin Mary and the saints are more sympathizing than Christ. Answer him, that such an argument springs from ignorance of the Scriptures, and of Christ's true nature. Answer him, that you have not so learned Christ, as to regard him only as an austere Judge, and a being to be feared. Answer him, that the four gospels have taught you to regard him as the most loving and sympathizing of friends, as well as the mightiest and most powerful of Saviours. Answer him, that you want no comfort from saints and angels, from the Virgin Mary, or from Gabriel, so long as you can repose your weary soul on the man Christ Jesus.
III. Learn, in the third place, that there may be much weakness and infirmity even in a true Christian.
You have a striking proof of this in the conduct of the disciples here recorded, when the waves broke over the ship. They awoke Jesus in haste. They said to him in fear and anxiety, "Master, carest thou not that we perish."
There was impatience. They might have waited till their Lord thought fit to arise from his sleep. There was unbelief. They forgot that they were in the keeping of one who had all power in his hand. "We perish."
There was distrust. They spoke as if they doubted their Lord's care and thoughtfulness for their safety and well-being. "Carest thou not that we perish?"
Poor faithless men; what business had they to be afraid? They had seen proof upon proof that all must be well so long as the Bridegroom was with them. They had witnessed repeated examples of his love and kindness towards them, sufficient to convince them that he would never let them come to real harm. But all was forgotten in the present danger. Sense of immediate peril often makes men have a bad memory. Fear is often unable to reason from past experience. They heard the winds. They saw the waves. They felt the cold waters beating over them. They fancied death was close at hand. They could wait no longer in suspense. "Carest thou not," said they, "that we perish?"
But after all, let us understand this is only a picture of what is constantly going on among believers in every age. There are too many disciples, I suspect, at this very day, like those who are here described.
Many of God's children get on very well so long as they have no trials. They follow Christ very tolerably in the time of fair weather. They fancy they are trusting him entirely. They flatter themselves they have cast every care on him. They obtain the reputation of being very good Christians.
But suddenly some unlooked for trial assails them. Their property makes itself wings, and flies away. Their own health fails. Death comes up into their house. Tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word. And where now is their faith? Where is the strong confidence they thought they had? Where is their peace, their hope, their resignation? Alas, they are sought for, and not found. They are weighed in the balance, and found wanting. Fear and doubt, distress and anxiety break in upon them like a flood, and they seem at their wit's end. I know that this is a sad description. I only put it to the conscience of every real Christian, whether it is not correct and true.
The plain truth is, that there is no literal and absolute perfection among true Christians so long as they are in the body. The best and brightest of God's saints is but a poor mixed being. Converted, renewed, and sanctified though he be, he is still compassed with infirmity. There is not a just man upon earth that always doeth good, and sinneth not. In many things we offend all. A man may have true saving faith, and yet not have it always close at hand and ready to be used.
Abraham was the father of the faithful. By faith he forsook his country and his kindred, and went out according to the command of God to a land he had never seen. By faith he was content to dwell in the land as a stranger, believing that God would give it to him for an inheritance. And yet this very Abraham was so far overcome by unbelief that he allowed Sarah to be called his sister, and not his wife, through the fear of man. Here was great infirmity. Yet there have been f e w greater saints than Abraham.
David was a man after God's own heart. He had faith to go out to battle with the giant Goliath when he was but a youth. He publicly declared his belief that the Lord, who delivered him from the paw of the lion and bear, would deliver him from this Philistine. He had faith to believe God's promise that he should one day be king of Israel, though he was owned by but few followers, though Saul pursued him like a partridge on the mountains, and there o ft e n seemed but a step between him and death. And yet this very David at one time was so far overtaken by fear and unbelief, that he said, "I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul." He forgot the many wonderful deliverances he had experienced at God's hand. He only thought of his present danger, and took refuge among the ungodly Philistines. Surely here was great infirmity. Yet there have been few stronger believers than David.
I know it is easy for a man to reply, "All this is very true, but it does not excuse the fears of the disciples. They had Jesus actually with them. They ought not to have been afraid. I should never have been so cowardly and faithless as they were." I tell the man who argues in that way, that he knows little of his own heart. No one knows the greatness of his own infirmities, if he has not been tempted; nor how much weakness might appear in himself, if he was placed in circumstances to call it forth.
Have you faith in Christ? Do you feel such love and confidence in him that you can not understand being greatly moved by any event that could happen? It is all well. I am glad to hear it. But has this faith been tried? Has this confidence been put to the test? If not, take heed of condemning these disciples hastily. Be not high-minded, but fear. Think not, because your heart is in a lively frame now, that such a frame will always last. Say not, because your feelings are warm and fervent today, "Tomorrow shall be as today, and much more abundant." Say not, because your heart is lifted up just now with a strong sense of Christ's mercy, "I shall never forget him as long as I live." Oh, learn to abate something of this flattering estimate of yourself. You do not know yourself thoroughly. There are more things in your inward man than you are at present aware of. The Lord may leave you as he did Hezekiah, to show you all that is in your hearts. (2 Chr. 32:31). Blessed is he that is clothed with humility. Happy is he that feareth always. Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.
Why do I dwell on this? Do I want to apologize for the corruptions of professing Christians, and excuse their sins? God forbid. Do I want to lower the standard of sanctification, and countenance any one in being a lazy, idle soldier of Christ? God forbid. Do I want to wipe out the broad line of distinction between the converted and the unconverted, and to wink at inconsistencies? Once more I say, God forbid. I hold strongly that there is a mighty difference between the true Christian and the false, between the believer and the unbeliever, between the children of God and the children of the world. I hold strongly that this difference is not merely one of faith, but of life; not only one of profession, but of practice. I hold strongly that the ways of the believer should be as distinct from those of the unbeliever, as bitter from sweet, light from darkness, heat from cold.
But I do want young Christians to understand what they must expect to find in themselves. I want to prevent their being stumbled and puzzled by the discovery of their own weakness and infirmity. I want them to see that they may have true faith and grace in spite of all the devil's whispers to the contrary, though they feel within many doubts and fears. I want them to observe that Peter and James and John and their brethren were true disciples, and yet not so spiritual but that they could be afraid. I do not tell them to make the unbelief of the disciples an excuse for themselves. But I do tell them that it shows plainly, that so long as they are in the body, they must not expect faith to be above the reach of fear.
Above all, I want all Christians to understand what they must expect in other believers. You must not hastily conclude that a man has no grace, merely because you see in him some corruptions. There are spots on the face of the sun; and yet the sun shines brightly, and enlightens the whole world. There is quartz and dross mixed up with many a lump of gold that comes from Australia; and yet who thinks the gold on that account worth nothing at all? There are flaws in some of the finest diamonds in the world; and yet they do not prevent their being rated at a priceless value. Away with this morbid squeamishness, which makes many ready to excommunicate a man if he only has a few faults. Let us be more quick to see grace, and more slow to see imperfections. Let us know if we cannot allow there is grace where there is corruption, we shall find no grace in the world. We are yet in the body. The devil is not dead. We are not yet like the angels. Heaven is not yet begun. The leprosy is not out of the walls of the house, however much we may scrape them, and never will be till the house is taken down. Our bodies are indeed the temple of the Holy Ghost, but not a perfect temple until they are raised or changed. Grace is indeed a treasure, but a treasure in earthen vessels. It is possible for a man to forsake all for Christ's sake, and yet to be overtaken occasionally with doubts and fears.
I beseech you to remember this. It is a lesson worth attention. The apostles believed in Christ, loved Christ, and gave up all to follow Christ. And yet you see in this storm the apostles were afraid. Learn to be charitable in your judgment of them. Learn to be moderate in your expectations from your own heart. Contend to the death for the truth that no man is a true Christian who is not converted, and is not a holy man. But allow that a man may be converted, have a new heart, and be a holy man, and yet be liable to infirmity, doubts, and fears.
IV. Learn, in the fourth place, the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.
You have a striking example of His power in the history upon which I am now dwelling. The waves were breaking into the ship where Jesus was. The terrified disciples awoke him, and cried for help. "He arose and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm." This was a wonderful miracle. No one could do this but one who was almighty.
Make the winds cease with a word! Who does not know that it is a common saying, in order to describe an impossibility, "You might as well speak to the wind?" Yet Jesus rebukes the wind, and at once it ceases. This was power.
What reader of history does not know that a mighty king of England tried in vain to stop the tide rising on the shore? Yet here is one who says to raging waves in a storm, "Peace, be still;" and at once there was a calm. Here was power.
It is good for all men to have clear views of the Lord Jesus Christ's power. Let the sinner know that the merciful Saviour, to whom he is urged to flee, and in whom he is invited to trust, is nothing less than the Almighty, and has power over all flesh to give eternal life. (Rev. 1:8; John 17:2). Let the anxious inquirer understand that if he will only venture on Jesus, and take up the cross, he ventures on One who has all power in heaven and earth. (Matt. 28:18). Let the believer remember, as he journeys through the wilderness, that his Mediator and Advocate and Physician and Shepherd and Redeemer is Lord of lords, and King of kings, and that through him all things may be done. (Rev. 17:14; Phil. 4:13). Let all study the subject, for it deserves to be studied.
Study it in his works of creation. "All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." John 1:3. The heavens, and all their glorious hosts of inhabitants; the earth, and all that it contains; the sea, and all that is in it-all creation, from the sun on high to the least worm below, was the work of Christ. He spake, and they came into being. He commanded, and they began to exist. That very Jesus, who was born of a poor woman at Bethlehem, and lived in a carpenter's house at Nazareth, had been the former of all things. Was not this power?
Study it in his works of providence, and the orderly continuance of all things in the world. "By Him all things consist." (Col. 1:17). Sun, moon, and stars roll round in a perfect system. Spring, summer, autumn, and winter, follow one another in regular order. They continue to this day, and fail not, according to the ordinance of Him who died on Calvary. (Psalm 119:91). The kingdoms of this world rise and increase, and decline and pass away. The rulers of the earth plan and scheme, and make laws and change laws, and war, and pull down one and raise up another. But they little think that they rule only by the will of Jesus, and that nothing happens without the permission of the Lamb of God. They do not know that they and their subjects are all as a drop of water in the hand of the crucified One, and that he increaseth the nations and diminisheth the nations just according to his mind. Is not this power?
Study the subject not least in the miracles worked by our Lord Jesus Christ, during the three years of his ministry upon earth. Learn from the mighty works which he did, that the things which are impossible with men, are possible with Christ. Regard every one of his miracles as an emblem and figure of spiritual things. See in it a lively picture of what he is able to do for your soul. He that could raise the dead with a word, can just as easily raise men from the death of sin. He that could give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the dumb, can also make sinners to see the kingdom of God, hear the joyful sound of the gospel, and speak forth the praise of redeeming love. He that could heal leprosy with a touch, can heal any disease of heart. He that could cast out devils, can bid every besetting sin yield to his grace. Oh, begin to read Christ's miracles in this light. Wicked and bad and corrupt as you may feel, take comfort in the thought that you are not beyond Christ's power to heal. Remember, that in Christ there is not only a fullness of mercy, but a fullness of power.
Study the subject in particular, as placed before you this day. I dare be sure your heart has sometimes been tossed to and fro like the waves in a storm. You have found it agitated like the waters of the troubled sea when it cannot rest. Come and hear this day that there is One who can give you rest. Jesus can say to your heart, whatever may be its ailment, "Peace, be still."
What though your conscience within be lashed by the recollection of countless transgr
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