Romans 8, Verses 16 to 39, Part 4
by Karl Kemp
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I'll continue to quote from Geisler's book and make many comments myself here in Part 4. (Are you aware of the fact that you can click on my name beside any of my articles on this Christian article site and be taken to a listing of all of my articles on this site? So too for any other author.)
"... Unfortunately, the extreme Calvinists have sacrificed human responsibility in order to preserve divine sovereignty (see chapter 4)" (page 37). But we don't have to sacrifice human responsibility to preserve divine sovereignty. Our sovereign God has chosen to leave a significant role for people to play in their repentance and acceptance (in faith) or rejection of the gospel. For one significant thing (although God draws, convicts, etc.) He doesn't just give us saving faith to begin with, and (although He provides the grace for us to continue in faith and sincerely calls for born-again Christians who are living in sin to repent, as in Revelation chapters 2, 3 for example), He doesn't force us to continue in faith. (See my "A Paper on Faith" and "Once Saved, Always Saved?") We cannot tell God what He must do if He is sovereign, which He is. In His sovereignty He has chosen to allow many things to happen that are not His will. He never wills for His people (or His cherubim, angels) to rebel against Him and sin, for example, but He limits how far He permits sin to go. He never loses the overall control of His universe.
Page 42. "No one has ever demonstrated a contradiction between predestination and free choice. There is no irresolvable conflict between an event being predetermined by an all-knowing God and it also being freely chosen by us."
Pages 56-58. Geisler is disagreeing here with what he calls the extreme Calvinists' view of total depravity. ... I'll include a few words from page 116 here, "[Moderate Calvinists] insist that being 'dead' in sin does not mean that unsaved people cannot understand and receive the truth of the gospel as the Spirit of God works on their hearts. ...."
Pages 59, 60, 71. "... [From what I know of Calvinism, I wouldn't call this viewpoint (the Calvinistic viewpoint that regeneration [being born again] precedes faith) extreme Calvinism. It seems to be the standard viewpoint of Calvinists. Anyway, I agree with Geisler's viewpoint that the Bible teaches that faith precedes regeneration.] ...."
Pages 161, 162. This excerpt is from appendix three, which is titled "The Origins of Extreme Calvinism." I had quoted some 350 words from Geisler here in the original paper. He argued for the viewpoint (which he says was "virtually the whole of the Christian tradition up to the Reformation") that fallen human beings have the ability to submit to God's saving grace and rejecting the idea of man's being saved by God's irresistible grace. He discusses the fact that this erroneous viewpoint traces back to the Augustine (AD 354-430) in his later years.
On page 162 Geisler says that one of the things that caused Augustine to change his viewpoint was his controversy with the Donatists, where he affirmed "that heretics could be coerced to believe against their free choice to confess the Catholic faith. ... If the church can coerce heretics to believe against their will, then why can't God force sinners to believe against their will?" Later I have a section titled "Augustine and the Donatists."
Pages 181, 182. These pages are at the beginning of appendix five, which is titled "Is Faith a Gift Only to the Elect?" I had quoted some 250 words from Geisler here. He argues against what he calls the extreme Calvinists idea that faith is a gift of God given to the elect. He spends quite a bit of space here arguing against the common Calvinistic interpretation of Eph. 2:8, that this verse speaks of faith being a gift of God given to man in regeneration. He argues (rightly I believe) that Eph. 2:8 speaks of "salvation" being the gift of God, not "faith" being the gift. He says that even John Calvin agreed on this interpretation of Eph. 2:8. On Eph. 2:8-10, see my "A Paper on Faith" (pages 77-80 of the version on my internet site). A key point of that paper is to demonstrate that faith is something we do, in response to God's initiative.
Page 218. This excerpt is from appendix eight, "An Evaluation of the Canons of Dort." Geisler quotes Article XIV of the "Canons of Dort." He argues here against the Calvinistic idea that faith is a gift of God to the elect that cannot be rejected (irresistible grace).
Pages 228-231. "there are no verses properly understood that teach regeneration is prior to faith. Instead, it is the uniform pattern of Scripture to place faith logically prior to salvation as a condition for receiving it. ...."
Perseverance of the Saints.
Geisler deals with this topic on pages 117-128. The thing that caught my attention the most in his rather brief treatment of this topic was that he listed Gal. 5:4; Heb. 6:4-6; and 10:26-29 under the heading "True Believers Lose Rewards, Not Salvation." I don't believe there is any possibility that his heading gives the correct interpretation of these verses. Also, Geisler (on page 128) speaks of 2 Tim. 2:13 as "one of the strongest verses of all verses on eternal security." I don't believe that this verse offers any support for the doctrine once saved, always saved. In fact, the "trustworthy statement" of 2 Tim. 2:11-13 contains a very powerful warning to Christians that they dare not deny Christ - they must stay faithful to Him - lest He deny them and they forfeit salvation. We'll look at 2 Tim. 2:11-13 in some detail in the following section.
On pages 99, 100 Geisler discusses "Extreme vs. Moderate Calvinism on Perseverance." He is concerned that "some extreme Calvinists seem to imply that none of the elect will die in sin [in other words, some (extreme) Calvinists believe that if "Christians" die in sin it demonstrates that they really weren't elect of God or true Christians, because true Christians don't live in sin (they aren't characterized by sin) and they don't die in sin], while the moderate Calvinist holds that no elect person will be lost, even if he dies in sin." I believe the moderate Calvinist is on very shaky ground here; I don't believe the Bible backs up this viewpoint. Apparently Geisler doesn't go as far as the advocates of "No-Lordship Salvation" in leaving room for sin in the lives of Christians. On pages 128, 129 he cautions believers to examine themselves to make sure they are true believers. ("No-Lordship Salvation" and "Antinomianism" are discussed in my paper titled, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism.")
I'll include several excerpts (going on for several pages) from my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?" (from pages 20-22 of the version on my website), from a section titled "Origin of the Doctrine Once Saved, Always Saved?" I recommend reading the entire paper.
This doctrine [Perseverance of the Saints; Eternal Security] originated, for the most part at least, with the later view of Augustine. He died AD 430. I'll start with a lengthy quotation from a Calvinistic theologian, L. Berkhof ("Systematic Theology," Eerdmans, 1941. page 545): "The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints...is to the effect that they whom God has regenerated [caused to be reborn] and effectually called to a state of grace, can neither totally nor finally fall away from that state, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end and be eternally saved. THIS DOCTRINE WAS FIRST EXPLICITLY TAUGHT BY AUGUSTINE [my emphasis], though he was not as consistent on this point as might have been expected of him as a strict predestinarian. With him the doctrine did not assume the form just stated. He held that the elect could not so fall away as to be finally lost, but at the same time considered it possible that some who were endowed with new life and true faith could fall from grace completely and at last suffer eternal damnation. The Church of Rome with its Semi-Pelagianism, including the doctrine of free will, denied the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and made their perseverance depend on the uncertain obedience of man. The Reformers [Luther, Calvin, and others] restored this doctrine to its rightful place. The Lutheran Church [not following Luther], however, makes it uncertain again by making it contingent on man's continued activity of faith, and by assuming that believers can fall completely from grace. It is only in the Calvinistic Churches that the doctrine is maintained in a form in which it affords absolute assurance. ... The Arminians rejected this view and made the perseverance of believers dependent on their will to believe and on their good works. [Arminians would insist that their works are by grace. They would also say that they could not have believed apart from the enabling grace of God made available to all mankind.] ... The Wesleyan Arminians followed suit.... The Reformed or Calvinistic Churches stand practically alone in giving a negative answer to the question, whether a Christian can completely fall from the state of grace and be finally lost."
I'll quote part of what David Bercot says (quoted in my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?") on the view of the early Christian writers under the subheading, "Can A Saved Person Be Lost?" ("Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today's Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity" [Scroll Publishing, 1989, 1999], pages 65, 66):
"Since the early Christians believed that our continued faith and obedience [true faith includes obedience (by grace)] are necessary for salvation, it naturally follows that they believed that a 'saved' person could still end up being lost. For example, Irenaeus [about AD 130-200], the pupil of Polycarp [who knew the apostle John], wrote, 'Christ will not die again on behalf of those who now commit sin because death shall no more have dominion over Him.... Therefore we should not be puffed up.... But we should beware lest somehow, after [we have come to] the knowledge of Christ, if we do things displeasing to God, we obtain no further forgiveness of sins but rather be shut out from His kingdom' " ("Against Heresies," bk. 4, chap. 27, sec. 2. [Heb. 6:4-6]). [Irenaeus didn't mean that there is no forgiveness for sins committed after conversion, but that (according to the Bible) we Christians must know that it is very dangerous to leave any room for sin, and especially sin that falls in the category of being willful, defiant sin or apostasy.]
Tertullian [about AD 160-240] wrote, 'Some people act as though God were under an obligation to bestow even on the unworthy His intended gift. ... For do not many afterwards fall out of grace? Is not this gift [of salvation] taken away from many?' ("On Repentance," chapter 6)
Cyprian [about AD 200-258] told his fellow believers, 'It is written, "He who endures to the end, the same shall be saved" [Matt. 10:22]. So whatever precedes the end is only a step by which we ascend to the summit of salvation. It is not the final point wherein we have already gained the full result of the ascent.' ("Unity of the Church," section 21)
One of the Scripture passages that the early Christians frequently cited is Heb. 10:26: 'If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left.' Our preachers usually tell us that the writer of Hebrews wasn't talking about saved persons. ... All the early Christians understood this passage to be talking about persons who had been saved. ...." Many more similar quotations from early Christian writers [quite a few of these brethren were martyred for Christ] are available. See the appendix of my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?" on my internet site.
It is important to understand that the perseverance of the saints was only part of the package that Augustine came up with. An important part of the package was the idea that man is so completely fallen that he has no ability to respond to God's grace. Calvinists often use the words 'Total Depravity.' I agree that man is so fallen that God must take the initiative in our salvation, and that salvation must be all of grace since we do not merit salvation in any way. But Calvinists (following Augustine) include the idea that man is totally unable to respond to (to cooperate with) God's grace and God must do everything, including giving faith to His chosen ones.
It is important to see that the doctrine of once saved, always saved did not arise on its own, but as part of the Augustinian/Calvinistic system briefly described above. The doctrine follows quite naturally once you accept this theological viewpoint. However, it would have been very difficult for the doctrine to arise on its own with wide acceptance because of its limited scriptural support, especially when you consider the many passages of scripture that clearly refute the doctrine. Many such passages are discussed in this paper ("Once Saved, Always Saved?") The primary verses used to support the doctrine are listed below (in my paper "Once Saved, Always Saved?").
(I'm still quoting from "Once Saved, Always Saved?" in this paragraph and the following paragraph.) There are many Christians today, including many Baptists, who hold once saved, always saved but do not agree with much, if any, of the Augustinian/Calvinistic viewpoint. However, I believe we can say that their doctrine traces back to this viewpoint (whether directly or indirectly) in most cases. After all, the doctrine of eternal security is appealing, and easy to accept. Once the doctrine had received wide acceptance, it became rather easy to accept the doctrine without the supporting structure provided by the theological viewpoint of the later Augustine and Calvinism.
I'll quote from W. W. Adams. (At the time of this writing he was a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The quotation is taken from the Introduction to "Elect in the Son" by R. Shank [Westcott Publishers, 1970].) "Let it be remembered that, less than a hundred years ago, all five cardinal points of Calvin's system of theology [the TULIP] generally prevailed among Baptists, as theological textbooks of the times will confirm. Today, only one point remains to any appreciable extent among Baptists, inevitable perseverance, and there is growing evidence that Baptists are increasingly questioning this last vestige of the central core of Calvin's system of theology. Our only legitimate concern in all of this is, What saith the Scripture?" Amen!
A Study of 2 Timothy 2:11-13. (As I mentioned this passage is very relevant to the topic of once saved, always saved?)
Because of the subject matter of this epistle written by the apostle Paul to Timothy (who was a minister under Paul with quite a bit of authority/responsibility), these verses we are studying were especially aimed at those in the ministry, but there's no doubting that these verses also have much application for every Christian, whether called into the ministry, or not. There's widespread agreement that this is the last epistle that the apostle wrote (at least it's the last of the epistles written by Paul that we possess). The time for him to be martyred for Christ at Rome was apparently not far off (cf. 2 Tim. 4:6, 7), not that it was only a couple of days off (cf. 2 Tim. 4:9, 21).
A major thrust of the epistle was to urge Timothy to be fully faithful to Christ in his Christian life and ministry (see all four chapters on this point), and Timothy was to exhort other ministers to do the same thing (e.g., 2 Tim. 2:2, 14-21, 25, 26). The more difficult the times, the more we must make it a top priority to remain faithful to Christ. (It's also true that when things are going relatively easy, we must be diligent to make sure we don't backslide. The history of Israel in the Old Testament repeatedly demonstrates this important point.) Paul wrote this epistle knowing that some ministers had stopped being faithful to Christ (cf. 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:14-21; and 4:10).
"It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him [[Romans chapter 6 is an important cross-reference on dying with Christ and living with Him (especially note Rom. 6:8), but the emphasis there is on the fact that we live with Christ now, having been raised from the dead spiritually (cf. Col. 2:12, 13; 3:1-3). The yet-future eternal life is also included there (cf. Rom. 6:22, 23; Col. 3:2, 3). Here in 2 Tim. 2:11 the words "we will also live with Him" speak of our yet-future eternal life, which is a common perspective in the New Testament (cf. Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; Rom. 8:11; 2 Cor. 5:4; Gal. 6:8; 1 Thess. 5:10; 1 Tim. 6:12, 19; Titus 3:7; James 1:12; Rev. 2:7, 10; and 7:17).
Significantly, the words "if we died with Him" here in 2 Tim. 2:11 mean much more than just having an initial new-birth experience. They include the idea that the believer goes on to make it a top priority to ensure that the old man with its sinful works really is put to death and that we are living as faithful Christians (e.g., Romans chapter 6 [almost every verse]; Rom. 8:12-14; Gal. 5:24; Eph. 4:22-24; and Col. 3:5-11). This includes taking up our cross (cf. Matt. 10:37-39; 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-39; Luke 9:23-26; 14:26-33; and Gal. 6:12, 14), which includes being willing to suffer with Christ (cf., e.g., Rom. 8:17, 18 ["and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us"].)]]; (12) If we endure [[Paul had just mentioned in 2 Tim. 2:10 that he endured all things for the sake of those who are chosen. The apostle had special trials to endure as the apostle to the Gentiles, and some special trials came to ministers like Timothy (cf. 2 Tim. 2:1-10), but all Christians must persevere and be willing to endure the trials and temptations that all believers face, whether in the ministry, or not (e.g., Acts 14:22; 1 Cor. 4:12; 9:12; 2 Cor. 1:6; 1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Thess. 1:4; 2 Tim. 3:11; 4:5; Heb. 10:32; 11:27; 12:7; 1 Pet. 2:20; and Rev. 2:3). Those who endure to the end (by God's sufficient grace) will be saved (Matt. 10:22; 24:13; and Mark 13:13).]], we will also reign with Him [These words speak of our yet-future reign with Christ (cf., e.g., Rev. 2:26, 27; 3:21; 5:10; 20:4, 6; and 22:5).]; If we deny Him [We would deny Him by failing to be faithful to Him and the new covenant, and without repentance (cf., e.g., 1 Tim. 5:8; Titus 1:16; 2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 1:4; Rev. 2:13; and 3:8).], He also will deny us [See Matt. 10:32, 33; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; and 12:8, 9.]; (13) If we are faithless, He remains faithful [cf., e.g., Rom. 3:3], for He cannot deny Himself."
As I mentioned, Geisler listed 2 Tim. 2:13 as "one of the strongest verses of all verses on eternal security." (Many Christians agree with Geisler's understanding of this verse.) It seems clear to me that 2 Tim. 2:12, 13 constitute a strong teaching against eternal security. THIS VERSE SURELY WASN'T WRITTEN TO TAKE BACK (TO CONTRADICT) WHAT THE APOSTLE HAD JUST CLEARLY STATED IN VERSE 12. And there are many other verses, throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, that demonstrate that God's people can turn their backs on Him and cease to be His people. (See my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?" for many examples.) I consider this verse to be a very strong warning to Christians that they certainly can lose their salvation. It's no wonder that there is so little fear among so many Christians in our day, when we explain away all the warnings of the Bible, whether well intentioned, or not. The Bible, both the Old and New Testaments makes it very clear that we should be afraid to sin against God!
The first two if clauses (in 2:11b and 12a) go together and refer to those who stay faithful to Christ until the end (which we all can and should do - this is the will of God; and His enabling grace is sufficient). The last two if clauses (in 2:12b and 2:13) also go together and refer to those Christians who are not faithful to Christ and deny Him. "If we died with Him" (2:11b) and "if we endure" (2:12a) both refer to those Christians who remain faithful. "If we deny Him" (2:12b) and "if we are faithless" (2:13) both refer to those Christians who turn their backs on Christ. The words "He remains faithful" (2:13) apparently are limited (in this context) to saying that He remains faithful to do what He frequently said He would do - when He denies those who have denied Him.
The words, "for He cannot deny Himself" (2:13), rather powerfully back up this idea. That is, if He didn't deny those who deny Him, He would have to deny Himself, which is impossible. A more literal translation of the Greek of these last words makes this point even more dramatic, "for to deny Himself He is not able." The words "He remains faithful, for to deny Himself He is not able" were written, it seems clear to me, to help put the fear of God in the hearts of any Christians who would consider entertaining the idea of denying Christ. Although the idea that He remains faithful (He is faithful) to bring to pass what He has said He would do for all those who stay faithful to Him apparently isn't included in verse 13, it certainly is Scriptural and true.
Unfaithfulness (without repentance) does not always result in loss of salvation (it depends, for one thing, on the level of unfaithfulness; it also depends, to some extent, on the level of maturity of the Christians who are being unfaithful to God; and God, who is merciful, knows the heart), but all unfaithfulness is a serious matter, and all unfaithfulness robs God of glory, hurts the body of Christ, and can lead to a loss of rewards (which is a serious matter), if not a loss of salvation.
I'll quote part of what John R. W. Stott said under 2 Tim. 2:11-13 ("The Message of 2 Timothy" [Inter-Varsity Press, 1973], pages 63, 64). "Paul now quotes a current saying or fragment of an early Christian hymn which he pronounces reliable [trustworthy, faithful]. [Stott has a footnote here, "There are four similar quotations in the Pastorals (the so-called Pastoral epistles: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) introduced by the formula 'the saying is sure', namely in 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9 and Tit. 3:8."] It consists of two pairs of epigrams, which are general axioms of Christian life and experience. ... The first pair relates to those who remain true and endure, the second pair to those who become false and faithless.
The death with Christ which is here mentioned ["if we died with Him"] must refer, according to the context, not to our death to sin through union with Christ in his death, but rather to our death to self and to safety, as we take up the cross and follow Christ. [I don't believe we can exclude our death to sin.] ...
This other pair of epigrams envisages the dreadful possibility of our denying Christ and proving faithless. The first phrase 'if we deny him, he also will deny us' seems to be an echo of our Lord's own warning: 'WHOEVER DENIES ME BEFORE MEN, I ALSO WILL DENY BEFORE MY FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN' [my emphasis] (Matt. 10:33).
What then of the second phrase 'if we are faithless, he remains faithful'? It has often been taken as a comforting assurance that, even if we turn away from Christ, he will not turn away from us, for he will never be faithless as we are. And it is true, of course, that God never exhibits the fickleness or the faithlessness of man. Yet the logic of the Christian hymn, with its two pairs of balancing epigrams, really demands a different interpretation. 'If we deny him' and 'if we are faithless' are parallels, which requires that 'he will deny us' and 'he remains faithful' be parallels also. In this case his 'faithfulness' when we are faithless will be faithfulness to his warnings. ... So he will deny us, as the earlier epigram asserts. Indeed, if he did not deny us (in faithfulness to his plain warnings), he would then deny himself. But one thing is certain about God beyond any doubt or uncertainty whatever, and that is 'he cannot deny himself.' "
I'll quote a short paragraph from what William Hendricksen said regarding 2 Tim. 2:13 ("Thessalonians, Timothy, and Titus" [Baker, 1979], page 260). "It is hardly necessary to add that the meaning of the last line cannot be, 'If we are faithless and deny him, nevertheless he, remaining faithful to his promise, will give us everlasting life.' Aside from being wrong for other reasons, such an interpretation destroys the evident implication of the parallelism between lines three and four." Commenting on the warning contained in 2 Tim. 2:12b, 13, Hendricksen (a Calvinist) said, "It is a very earnest warning for those who might be inclined to become disloyal."
I'll also quote part of what R. C. H. Lenski (a Lutheran) said under 2 Tim. 2:13 ("St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon" [Augsburg, 1946], page 796). "Men [some men] expect Christ to act in the same way [that some men act, contradicting themselves, etc.] on judgment day: deny all his warning threats, give them and thus himself the lie, and let these deniers enter heaven as do his faithful believers. ...'he is not able.' Count on the changeless Christ to all eternity." God cannot allow rebels into His eternal kingdom without destroying the divine order of that kingdom.
Augustine and the Donatists.
I'll quote from Philip Schaff ("History of the Christian Church," Vol. 3 [Eerdmans, 1984 reprint], page 364). He's dealing with "Augustine and the Donatists. Their Persecution and Extinction." "Augustine himself, who had previously consented only to spiritual measures against heretics [I had a footnote: We should be very careful using the word "heretic." There's widespread agreement that the core beliefs of the Donatists were quite orthodox. Yes, there were some excesses, and there was some fleshiness, but they didn't have a corner on such things.], now advocated force, to bring them into the fellowship of the church, out of which there was no salvation. He appealed to the command in the parable of the supper, Luke 14:23, to 'compel them to come in'; where, however, the 'compel'...is evidently but a vivid hyperbole for the holy zeal in the conversion of the heathen, which we find, for example, in the Apostle Paul." Luke 14:23 deals with inviting Gentiles to become Christians, not with trying to force people to become Christians, or to force "heretics" back into the fellowship of the church.
On pages 166-172 Geisler has a section titled, "The Extreme 'Calvinism' of the Later Augustine." He has already informed us (see on his pages 161, 162 earlier here in Part 4 of this paper) that Augustine's controversy with the schismatic Donatists was part of what caused him to change his viewpoint about man's free will. I'll include two excerpts from the later Augustine that deal with the Donatists (from Geisler's page 168). Geisler includes many more excerpts from Augustine on pages 166-172.
This first excerpt is under Geisler's heading, "Compelling Donatists is acceptable." "Wherefore, if the power which the Church has received by divine appointment in its due season...be the instrument by which those who are found in the highways and hedges [Luke 14:23 (discussed above in the excerpt from Schaff)] - that is, in heresies and schisms - are compelled to come in, then let them not find fault with being compelled, but consider whether they be so compelled ("Corrections of the Donatists," 6.24)."
In this next excerpt, which Geisler titled "Christ used violence on Paul," Augustine was dealing with the fact that the Donatists insisted that "Man is at liberty to believe or not believe." Augustine responded that Christ had compelled Paul, who became an apostle. "Why, therefore, should not the Church use force in compelling her lost sons to return, if the lost sons compelled others to their destruction? [I would agree that it could have been proper to use force against Donatists who were using force to keep some in their fold, but that is very different than using force in compelling her lost sons to return.] ("Correction of the Donatists," 6.22-23)." Augustine was taking quite a leap from Christ's arrest of Paul (while on his way to Damascus to attack some more Christians) to the Church's right to try to force heretics and schismatics into the communion with the Catholic Church of that day. Nor would it be accurate to argue (as some do) that Paul's conversion demonstrates that people have no part to play in their conversion.
May God's will be fully accomplished through this paper!
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