A Really Short Case For Infant Baptism (117 words)

infant baptismThere are about 60 million evangelicals in North America. Most of them assume or hold a Baptist interpretation of redemptive history, a Baptist hermeneutic (way of reading Scripture), and consequently, a Baptist view of the sacraments or signs and seals of the covenant of grace. Many evangelicals have never come into contact with the historic Reformed view of the covenant of grace. When all one has ever known is a Baptist view, when all one’s friends and relatives hold a Baptist view, when one has never seen the historic Reformed practice that view can seem implausible, even though it was the view taught by famous and respected Reformers. Often it is assumed that the Reformers must have been influenced by Romanism and that they simply had not finished the job of reforming theology and practice. As a consequence of these assumptions and this sociology (setting in which things are assumed, understood, taught, and interpreted) it can be difficult for Baptists to try to see the Reformed paradigm on its own terms. I get emails regularly asking me to explain the Reformed view. I point correspondents to the large number of HB posts explaining the Reformed view but correspondents frequently ask for something short, on the assumption that if it is true it must be easily and quickly explained. Of course that assumption rests on the assumption that, of course, a Baptist explanation of the New Testament is correct.

So, I thought it might be useful as a starter for the impatient evangelical inquirer, to try to present the Reformed view in a nutshell. Please do not take this as a comprehensive account. It’s meant to whet the reader’s appetite and to suggest areas where the Reformed view differs from the various Baptist views. It’s meant to be a stimulus to further reading and study (e.g., on the New Covenant).


The Abrahamic covenant is still in force. The administration of the Abrahamic covenant involved believers and their children (Gen 17). That’s why Peter said, “For the promise to you and to your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). That’s a New Testament re-statement of the Abrahamic promise of Genesis 17 and in the minor prophets (e.g., Joel 2). Only believers have ever actually inherited, by grace alone, through faith alone, the substance of the promise (Christ and salvation) but the signs and seals of the promise have always been administered to believers and their children. It’s both/and not either/or.


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  1. It is obviously an important discussion, since God nearly killed Moses over it (Gen. 4). It seems to be an emotionally difficult discussion though. Our society is so individualistic. It is really hard for us to comprehend God’s sovereignty and trust Him with the salvation of our children, such faith is akin to the Centurion’s in Matthew 8- “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, ‘Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith’.”

    • Baptists will only baptize those whom they believe to have been regenerated (given new life). They typically do not see the same sort of continuity between Abraham and the New Covenant as the Reformed do. They tend to treat Abraham like Moses, as if the Abrahamic covenant were temporary and purely typological. Some will affirm continuity with Abraham but then will dispense with him when it comes to including children in the administration of the covenant of grace. The nature of the new covenant is probably the crux of the debate.

    • For that reason, I think it might be good to bump up the word count by two and put something like “(Rom 4)” at the end of the first sentence

  2. Dear Dr Clark
    I do see the same sort of continuity between Abraham and the New Covenant as Reformed Paedobaptists do, and I am not treating Abraham like Moses. I also include children in the administration of the covenant of grace. The reason I am still not a Paedobaptist (actually I should say Brephobaptist, as I would baptize children who make a credible profession of individual faith), is because I do not believe the significant thing about the eighth day is that it is in infancy. I believe the significance of the eighth day is that it follows a period of seven days, the time in which creation and the first Sabbath occurred. Also, the nature of circumcision as the sign of the covenant is that it conferred an irreversible change in the person being circumcised, as regards circumcision, in the person’s body. The two components, permanent change and ceremonial act, could not be separated in time. When the sign of the covenant changes to one that is unbloody, the only irreversible change is now spiritual, in the heart of the child of the covenant. The two components of the sign of the covenant are now spiritual (the permanent change) and ceremonial, rather than physical and ceremonial. As the two components of the Abrahamic sign could not be separated in time, so the components of the replacement sign should not be separated in time more than occurs accidentally. The duty of the parents, therefore, is to bring the child up in the ways of the Lord, and do their best to ensure that the ceremonial part of the sign Is received as part of the whole sign and not in isolation from permanent part. This, I believe, is the Biblical way of including children in the administration of the covenant of grace. They are then qualified to receive the Lord’s Supper immediately after baptism, in the same way that the Abrahamic children were qualified to eat the Passover (though not yet physically able) immediately after circumcision. Otherwise the case against Paedocommunion is weakened.
    I do not believe that you have been exposed to this type of Baptist argument prior to receiving it at my hands, and if you and your close colleagues cannot answer it, who can? I do not expect you to leave it on your website currently for all to see, but I do expect you to share it with mature Reformed Paedobaptist colleagues with a view to formulating a refutation or finding one in the writings of past Reformed theologians. Am I being unreasonable?
    Remember the book of nature teaches us that God ordered its laws so as to ensure that the eighth day is the safest time medically to circumcise. Similarly, it can be argued that the time of profession of faith is spiritually the safest (though not guaranteed 100% safe) time to baptize.

    • “They are then qualified to receive the Lord’s Supper immediately after baptism, in the same way that the Abrahamic children were qualified to eat the Passover (though not yet physically able) immediately after circumcision. Otherwise the case against Paedocommunion is weakened.”

      No, that’s not the way it worked in the OT.

      The memorial Passover was very clearly a professing ordinance. A future participant was to understand the reason why he should eat: “What do you mean by this service?” Participation was not voluntary, it was dutiful; unexcused absences were disciplinary offenses. The Passover (alone among the three annual feasts) even had a “make up date.” And those with the duty are spelled out in unambiguous terms: adult (mature, educated) males, previously circumcised.

      Each of these criteria find multiple, explicit attestation by statute; and are supported by the explicit data of redemptive-historic record (both OT and NT combined).

      In the OT, there are two most critical (out of many) defining ordinances. Access of the first creates access of the second.
      –Circumcision: OT initiatory rite, for adult male professors, and their minor sons (and even their cooperative male servants). Passively received.
      –Passover: OT professory ritual meal, for adult male professors (who had previously received the sign of covenant). Responsively, intelligently acted.

      In the NT, there is “neither male nor female” at precisely a point such as this. Just another way the New Covenant is “better.”
      –Baptism: NT initiatory rite, for adult professors of either sex, and their minor children (some whole households baptized in the NT as well). Passively received.
      –Lord’s Supper: NT professory ritual meal, for adult professors (who had previously received the sign of the covenant). Responsively, intelligently acted.

      The parallels are striking. The OT people-of-God were *never* defined and delimited by ancestry; but by sharing of the faith of their father Abraham; whose praise was not of men, but of God. Their invitation to the Passover was not an index of their heredity, but of their orthodoxy.

  3. Bruce, it was the lamb that had to be male, not the person that ate it. And anyone in the family that was capable of eating meat, excepting only uncircumcised males, was to eat of the Passover. And they didn’t have to have asked that question before they ate, but the Scripture assumes that somewhere along the line they will ask.
    Do you imagine that any member of the family was told “You can’t have any of that lamb”? All the girls left Egypt hungry?

    • 1) You appear to be equating the departure Passover with the memorial meal. The two events are described separately in the same chapter, indicating both connection and distinction.

      2) Your claim that “anyone capable” ate it (with certain *male* exceptions) is something of an inversion of the actual text permissions and descriptions. In other words, you’re making an argument that *starts* with the assumption that everyone is a participant unless he/she is excluded; and you go from there.

      3) Even if the participants were the same, the actual case for “everyone’s” participation in the departure meal is harder to make from the actual text than is frequently assumed. v4 uses the term “nephesh” (soul, somewhat generic); however the very next term of explanation is “ish,” male (man; as opposed to “female” isha), Literally, “according to the number of the souls, enough for every male.”

      4) The departure event takes place on the eve of the Death of the Firstborn (son). When the whole is recapitulated in Ex.13, the connection of the Passover to the males is underscored. The threat was against them, and they ate.

      5) The text does say, with reference to the memorial meal, that the *circumcised* shall eat of it, and *only* they. It says that at least three times in Ex.12:45-48. That would be males.

      6) The text does not say, “What do WE mean by this service, but what do YOU mean?” In other words, “What is the meaning of this religious rite you are doing.” The boy does not appear to be talking with his mouth full. Your suggestion is more of an eisegetical reading than mine.

      7) You are assuming that what is described is a substantial meal, rather than a ritual observance, with the greater substance in the meaning than in the stuff. Do you believe there was no other food at table that evening? There’s no reason to suppose that in the text itself. The lamb-portion is small enough, even that it could often be shared between two houses. And it was roasted whole, perhaps more blackened and burned than tender and juicy. Tough stuff.

      No, I don’t think it would be surprising, shocking, or offensive if it was not offered beyond the narrowest limits the text affords. The limits are God’s. And it is far more likely that there were other things to eat as necessary, more akin to a meal–especially for children, also for the women (who aren’t circumcised in any way).

      8) But even if you succeeded in putting women at the ritual table of the Lamb of the departure Passover, you still have not put them at the memorial Table. Ex.23:17 and Dt.16:16 state the persons who are obligated to come to the annual feasts: “All your males.” It is a philosophical choice (maybe a RPW choice) whether you read into that command a concomitant permission for the women to participate.

      But for sure they were not commanded, and if not commanded then not expected. In fact, approximately 25% of the whole female population would be ceremonially unclean due to their monthly period, and therefore certainly barred from defiled participation, regardless of whether you think they were permitted to take part in the memorial. Being keepers of the home, they would have often stayed back to mind small children who were unfit for those occasional journeys.

      9) So significant was the Passover, that for the men, there was as “second month” Passover, read about it Num.9:9ff. If the first was missed out of necessity, another make-up was provided. Nothing was ever provided for women who were unclean at first (and unclean again about a month later). The indication is clear that they were not expected, not obliged. And it is a small step to the conclusion that they were not even allowed, since over and over the requirement for circumcision is emphasized.

      10) In the most detailed description of the context of a memorial Passover meal event in the whole Bible–the Last Passover/First Supper–on the night in which He was betrayed… right, no women in sight. Not one of the many excellent female supporters of his ministry, Lk.8:1-2. None. In fact, no explicit mention of women at any Passover mentioned in all of Scripture.

      The nearest mention, OT or NT, is of Mary accompanying her husband to Jerusalem at the time of the feast, echoes of 1Sam.1:7 (which occasion is not specified). But we still don’t find either of them or any other engaged in the OT rituals. We have women, with their children and husbands, gathered to the hearing of the law (Dt.31:12; Ezr.10:1; Neh.8:2-3).

      What reasons, grounded in the text, overcoming all the contrary indications, are there to conclude that women and children were regular participants in the memorial Passover?

      And what was Jesus doing accompanying his parents to Jerusalem at 12yrs? He seems to have gone to the Temple for some sort of “elder examination,” and right about the time when boys formally become men….

  4. DR. Clark, I’ve always considered the reasons for P.baptism to be beautiful,well intentioned,and poetic…unfortunately it is not baptism.Please explain how one can have two different definitions of baptism,one for believers and one for infants…one is based on repentance and the other on promise…which may or may not come to pass.I have benefited much over the years from your obvious love of the Faith,so please don’t view this question(s) as someone trying to pick an argument.It has befuddled me for a while how strong the Reformed/Presbyterian way of handling Scripture is,but when it comes to this issue the reasons are so weak and dependent on inferences.No need to try and describe Covenant Theology,I am well aware of this and a firm believer in it myself,but as you have already guessed,I am of the Particular Baptist variety who understands your view of Ct…Thanks !!

    • Walter,

      1. Thanks for the kind words but this comment suggests that there are good reasons to doubt that you do understand Reformed covenant theology.

      2. We may doubt whether you understand the Particular Baptist position because it too rests on inferences and thus, if resting on inferences makes a position weak, then, brother, the PB position is weak. How can I say this? Show me a passage that says, “In the new covenant we may only baptize those who’ve made credible profession of faith.” What? You say that there is no such passage? Then you are drawing inferences aren’t you?

      3. You cannot simply assume as you do that every command in the NT to baptize excludes infants. This is what is known as “begging the question,” i.e., assuming what has to be proved.

      4. If you understood Reformed covenant theology (as distinct from the PB varieties) then you would know that the command to include infants in the outward administration of the covenant of grace has never been revoked. The promise (Gen 17) remains and is re-stated in Acts 2:39, “I will be a God to you and to your children.” If Peter repeats the promise then the promise is still in force.

      5. I understand that you don’t accept our inferences nor the inferences of the church since the 3rd century but please don’t assume that the Baptist case is so airtight that any reasonable person must see it. In order for the Baptist case to stand he must do away with the Abrahamic promise. He cannot because Abraham is the paradigm for believers in Romans 4 and Galatians 3-4. Ergo, the promise stands. No where is the command to initiate the children of believers revoked. Is that an inference? Certainly! Is it a good and necessary inference? We think so.

      6. Baptists and Reformed folk operate from different paradigms. Take a look at this attempt to explain the difference.

      7. The differences between the PB and Reformed views turns on a second matter, the nature of the new covenant. Take a look at this essay. In it I show that Jer 31 and the NT contrast the new with the Mosaic covenant not the Abrahamic. This is why I keep saying that Abraham was not Moses.

  5. Thank you for your response,but you still did not answer my initial question about two different definitions of baptism.Instead you tried to give me lesson on inferences…are you trying to relegate ones understanding of Scripture to a battle of inferences ??Talk about going ’round and ’round the mountain…we could be here all day,because we both know the usual arguments.I have somewhat of an advantage in that I have followed your writings,etc. for years,and am familiar with your statements and responses with/to others and all you know about me is based on “one” comment on your blog.Yet you feel comfortable in assessing the extent to which I understand CT or PB CT…not very graceful or wise.I know you are not going to change your mind on this topic(although one can hope),but that wasn’t my intention anyway.I wanted to know how you deal with maintaining two different definitions for baptism or are you going to rely on one being a sign and the other being a seal,which we both know is a stretch.I do not know to what extent you have read/interacted with PB CT,which deals extensively with the Abrahamic Covenant (Nehemiah Coxe,Thomas Patient,etc.),if you have you will know that it takes into account most if not all of what you propose and deals with it pretty nicely.Again,I have read much of your writings,etc. and it “seems” that your view of Reformed Baptist (I know you hate that term/label…sorry),is that it is just a rip-off of Reformed Theology minus paedo-baptism and not worthy of the historic label.I would say that that is not a very accurate summary…the composers of the 1689 purposely tried to identify (not rip-off) with Reformed brethren in much of the confessions of the time,but with some obvious differences.Again,thank you for taking the time to read and respond,I know comment sections can devolve into endless debates,this is not my desire,so if you wish you can email me privately and then leave it to your discretion if you want to add it to comments.My main concern in reading your posts,etc. on this topic is that you assume those who disagree don’t understand CT…many understand,they just don’t agree…so please represent opposing views accurately and it may be helpful to show the entire verse of Acts 2:39,not just the first part.
    Thanks again,

    • If you think the Reformed have two different “definitions of baptism, one for believers and one for infants,” then clearly you don’t know the theology you think you are equipped to critique. You are assuming common ground that doesn’t exist between us, and the same meanings for key terms. Such is not the case.

      There’s only one definition of baptism in Reformed Theology. Not every class of person is qualified for baptism in the same way. But then, not every class of person was qualified for the sign of circumcision in the same way, under previous administrations. So it is not as though these differences, that we claim obtain today with regard to baptism, are unprecedented in Scripture. Those differences in qualification in the OT did not create “two definitions” of circumcision. Neither do such differences make two definitions of baptism. All parties are baptized upon the same definition of the term.

      if you can’t shape a basic question in a way that a covenant theologian–of the stream that more or less codified the Reformation outlines of it in the 16th century; and which the Particular Baptists borrowed and modified–in a way that one of us recognizes it, then no, you don’t really understand traditional Covenant Theology too well. You have the modified version down pat, I’m sure. But what the differences are and why they didn’t fit the Baptist hermeneutic, not so much.

      And by the way, it’s only in the Particular Baptist imagination that something about “the entire verse of Acts 2:39” takes away from the Reformed observation that this verse references the Abrahamic covenant in explicit terms, and testifies to its enduring worth. Shorthand works.


  6. A very good summary in brief words. Thank you for the post

    John Rokos’s understanding is very novel, and new is not always a good thing. Like circumcision, baptism is a physical act that is irreversible. How can one become “unbaptized?” Both physical acts are signs and seals of a spiritual grace. In fact, they point to the same spiritual grace of regeneration, adoption, etc.

  7. I think Calvin said it best—if in fact the children of believer’s were no longer to be included in the Covenant, Paul would have HAD to have addressed it in the new Testament, because the Jews would have been in an uproar about that!! The fact that he never even addresses the issue shows that in fact, nothing had changed in that regard. I love Calvin. He is so wise, and just so simple at the same time.

    • Joann,

      I think that’s right. Surely Peter should have explained to all those Jewish men, at Pentecost, that when he said “the promise is to you and to your children…” that he did not mean to invoke the Abrahamic formula of Genesis 17 because they could not but have understood him in light of what God had promised and what they had understood for 2000 years to that point.

  8. I’m confused about the covenant part though. I see through Genesis 17 that circumcision was being required as a sign of the covenant, but where does the baptism come in?
    Are we saying that baptism carries the same weight as circumcision because baptism is a sign for us under the new covenant? Just trying to wrap my head around it.

  9. How does one reconcile infant baptism, which implies salvation through the Abrahamic covenant, with Rmans 10:9-10?

    • Andy,

      I think you’re making assumptions.

      1. The Reformed churches do not confess that salvation is conferred through or by baptism. We deny that very doctrine.
      2. Infant baptism does not imply baptismal regeneration or baptismal salvation.
      3. Here’s an explanation of how infant baptism relates to Romans 9. See the booklet. See also this essay.
      4. Remember, this is in no way intended to be a comprehensive explanation of infant baptism. It’s an attempt to introduce it by boiling it down to 117 words. Please listen to the podcasts (11 episodes so far) and take a look at the curriculum linked above.

    • Hi Adrian,

      I have explained this repeatedly in the materials linked above, both in posts and in podcasts. Let me encourage you to take advantage of those opportunities to learn.

      Briefly: the new covenant is the new administration of the Abrahamic promise. Circumcision was typological, i.e., a bloody, future-looking illustration of future realities. Christ fulfilled that illustration. He instituted a new, unbloody, sign/seal of the new administration of the Abrahamic covenant of grace (Matt 28:18-20). Thus, The apostle Peter commanded those Jews present for the feast of Pentecost to repent and to be baptized and he also restated the Abrahamic promise in Acts 2:39, “for the promise is to you and to your children and to as many as who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

      This is why the Apostle was baptized. He was being initiated into the administration of the new covenant.

  10. Baptism does nothing more for the child (or anyone else) then circumcision did for the child (or anyone else). The anti type of circumcision of the flesh is circumcision of the heart. NEVER is baptism considered the anti type of circumcision.

  11. yes, that scripture from Paul is an excellent scripture especially to point out the fact of full immersion when baptism is administered, nothing that I see to say baptism replaced circumcision.. As for Christ being the anti type of circumcision, I disagree, Christ saves, and Christ saves fully, circumcision of the flesh never saved anyone.

  12. I have read through your materials provided. But the fact remains that only by faith does anyone receive any of the promises of God. Yes it’s true, “The promise is for you and for your children and for many who are-for all whom the Lord our God will call” but those called, believe. And because they believe (faith) do they receive the promises of God. The promise can be for everyone who will ever be born, ever, yet only those who believe will receive the promises of God. Paul said, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing” 1st Cor. 7:19 Circumcision in the O.T. was to demonstrate the faith of the parents. It secured nothing for the child’s salvation, nor does baptism today.

    • L,

      You seem to assume that anyone who teaches infant baptism must believe in baptismal regeneration. Let me assure you that the Reformed churches deny baptismal regeneration.

      What is at stake in the matter of infant baptism is whether God’s command to include children in the outward administration of the covenant grace ended with the new covenant. The biblical position, as confessed by the Reformed churches, is that the covenant that God made with Abraham is still in effect. It is not the “old covenant” that expired with the death of Christ. That was the Mosaic covenant. The new covenant is a renewal of the Abrahamic covenant without the bloody types and shadows.

      As to whether circumcision points to Christ, your argument is not with me. It is with the Apostle Paul. He says that circumcision pointed to the death of Christ, who was “cut off” for us, on the cross. That is why he then turns to baptism, because it looks back to the cross. Your hermeneutic is not sufficiently Christ-centered and thus does not account for this fundamental unity of the covenant of grace.

      Only the elect come to faith. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, as it has always been. The promises are as they have been since Abraham, “I will be a God to you and to your children.” This is what Peter says in Acts 2:39, “The promise is to you and to your children…”.

      I’m ignoring your assertion about mode because, even though you are almost certainly wrong, it is irrelevant to the point at hand.

  13. Actually, I do not assume that anyone who teaches infant baptism must believe in baptismal regeneration. I do however believe that anyone that teaches infant baptism believe that the grace of God is somehow transmitted to the recipient of the baptism. What level of the grace depends on the believers teaching and promoting infant baptism. As for as somehow believing that baptism is the New Testament’s circumcision is not for me to prove as an inaccurate interpretation of the scripture. Rather my position/point is that the scripture does not teach or demonstrate infant Baptism. Nowhere in the Bible is infant baptism taught or demonstrated or commanded. That’s my position. It is for you and the others who teach something that is NOT in the scripture to prove otherwise. Many people can interpret the scripture to mean a lot of different things, yet none of it is Biblical truth. My argument is not against Paul, my argument is on the wrong interpretation of what Paul says. I know you are a very knowledgeable scholar, and I respect that, but with all respect to you , the plain truth is, the Bible nowhere teaches, commands or demonstrates infant baptism. It is only interpretation.
    God is the same yesterday today and forever, His grace or as you say, (covenant of grace) has not changed between the old and new testament. Your last statement to insert that I’m “almost certainly wrong” as for the mode of baptism, I am only taking the Greek word for what it actually means. immersion. That’s why the Greek Orthodox immerse their infants. They know what the Greek means. It’s that simple. Again, for someone to interpret baptism (the transliteration of the Greek and not the translation) to mean something other then immersion, is to be proven!

    • L,

      1. On baptismal regeneration, we’re agreed.

      2. Your assumption, however, that grace is necessarily communicated to the baptized, is not accurate. This is not what Calvin or any of the other Reformed theologians taught. More importantly it is not what the Reformed churches confess. Individual theologians publish opinions. The confessions of the churches are ecclesiastical interpretations of holy Scripture. E.g., Belgic Confession 34:

      Having abolished circumcision, which was done with blood, he established in its place the sacrament of baptism. By it we are received into God’s church and set apart from all other people and alien religions, that we may be dedicated entirely to him, bearing his mark and sign. It also witnesses to us that he will be our God forever, since he is our gracious Father. Therefore he has commanded that all those who belong to him be baptized with pure water in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

      Westminster Confession 28.5-6 explicit reject the notion that at baptism saving grace is necessarily conferred:

      5. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated (emphasis added).

      6. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time (emphasis added).

      3. Here is a course, consisting of a series of posts and (so far) 23 podcasts, on infant baptism. I wish you would work through these since I think that, if you got to know our position better it would relieve your concerns. It would be better to find out what we’re actually saying than merely supposing what we must say.

      A Curriculum On Infant Baptism and Covenant Theology

      3. One cannot assume that a command to baptize infants must be explicit. Rather, what we need is a command to stop initiating infants into the visible covenant community. We do not have that because there is none.

      4. The disagreement is not really about baptism. It’s about the flow of redemptive history. God made a promise to be a God to Abraham and to his children. He commanded Abraham to apply the sign of the covenant to believers and to their children. We say that command is still in force.

      5. We also distinguish between two ways of being in the visible covenant community: internal and external. Both circumcision and baptism were signs of an external relation to the covenant of grace. Paul says that a Jew is one who who is a Jew inwardly (Rom 2:28). Only the Spirit does that by granting new life and true faith. The sign of initiation in the visible community illustrates what is true of those who believe.

      Take some time and work through the curriculum. At least it may help you understand the Reformed position more clearly.

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