Is 1689 Federalism Novel?

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Puritan Board Sophomore
The latest reformed forum episode is on John Owen, Jeremiah 31, and the relationship between the Old and New Covenant.

I appreciate Reformed Forum's precision in their episodes, including this one. I also appreciate Wynne's attitude and that he has clearly read at least one book from Renihan, and has carefully considered Owen, not assuming Owen agrees with him and the WCF. Here are some quick reactions.
  1. Thankfully Wynne recognizes that the comparison between the Old and New Covenants in Jer 31/Heb 8 is not about a difference in ceremonies. Rather, what is new in the New Covenant is regeneration, reconciliation, and the satisfaction of sin. He correctly notes that the question is how OT saints received these New Covenant benefits in their day.
    1. The necessary implication of this, however, is that the Old and New Covenants are not the same in substance. Regeneration is not an accidental (to use Aristotelean terms) difference. It's not a difference in "administration." If the New Covenant regenerates but the Old does not, then they are not the same covenant in substance (essence).
      1. This was Owen's point when he said "The judgment of most reformed divines is, that the church under the Old Testament had the same promise of Christ, the same interest in him by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by the same way and means, that believers have under the new. And whereas the essence and the substance of the covenant consists in these things, they are not to be said to be under another covenant, but only a different administration of it... But it will be said, and with great pretence of reason, for it is the sole foundation of all who allow only a twofold administration of the same covenant, ’That this being the principal end of a divine covenant, if the way of reconciliation and salvation is the same under both, then indeed they are the same for the substance of them is but one.’ And I grant that this would inevitably follow, if it were so equally by virtue of them both. If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue of it, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, while they were under the old covenant."
        1. This relates to their confusion over Owen's view because they are working with a different definition or understanding of what constitutes the "substance" of a covenant. Wynne says "He says people were saved under the Old Covenant, but not by virtue of it. And at that level we can agree."
  2. In several episodes Bucey has tried to use Vos' typology triangle to try to answer the question of how OT saints could be saved prior to Christ's incarnation. (If you're unfamiliar with the triangle, you can see it on screen in the first few minutes of this video
    ) He uses it to imply that point "A" (the heavenly realities) is the source of these benefits prior to Christ's death & resurrection (point "C"). The problem is that there is no sacrifice offered in the heavenly sanctuary ("A") prior to the New Covenant ("C"). Those benefits can only come from "C." So Vos' triangle is helpful in explaining the technical usage of the Greek language in a couple of verses of Hebrews, but it does not provide some kind of profound answer to the question at hand. The question still remains how OT saints can receive the benefits of "C" prior to "C." The arrow must start at "C" and get to "B". Starting at "A" doesn't get OT saints the benefits of "C".
  3. Sacramental Salvation: In trying to answer the question of how OT saints are saved, they go straight to sacramentology. But is that how we answer how NT saints are saved? Do we go to the Lord's Supper to explain how someone is saved? No, we go to the Word and explain that in the elect the Lord makes the general call effectual. This is referred to by Calvin as the "inherent efficacy of the Word." Yet these brothers said nothing about this regarding OT saints and how they are saved. Can someone today be saved apart from the sacraments? Yes. Could someone in the OT be saved apart from the sacraments? Yes. Explain how and we can start finding some common ground on this issue.
    1. WCF/2LBCF 14.1 says "The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word"
    2. 2LBCF 10.1 (nearly identical to WCF) says "Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, he is pleased in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace."
    3. 2LBCF 20.1 (chapter 20 was added and is not in the WCF) says "The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners. ( Genesis 3:15; Revelation 13:8 )"
    4. Genesis 3:15, the promise of a Messiah who will come to reverse the curse, is foundational to salvation in the Old Testament. It is the object of the saints' faith. WCF 8.6 is frequently cited in debate over 1689 Federalism, but look what it says about the promise: "Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in... those promises... wherein he was revealed... to be the seed which should bruise the serpent's head... being the same yesterday, and today and for ever."
      1. Once again, explain how the promise of a future Messiah is sufficient to communicate (impart) the benefits of Christ to OT saints and we can begin to find common ground. Once we have this foundation we can then move on to talk about how typology relates.
  4. Bucey's "Conundrum": Bucey presented this great condundrum that he could not find a solution to: "What about the Jew who just says 'Well now that I’m believing in that, I’m going to stop offering sacrifices altogether.' What is the problem with the Jew that just decides to quit participating?" The answer is very simply that God commanded him to participate, so not participating would be sinning against God. On our view the sacrifices served a purpose within the Old Covenant (typological atonement in a typological holy land) distinct from their purpose as a type pointing to Christ. The fact that Bucey sees this as a great conundrum demonstrates that, in my opinion, he tends to have a hard time putting himself in someone else's shoes and understanding a position distinct from his own.
  5. Typological Covenant of Works: If Israel was under a covenant of works, how could they have survived one second?
    1. Because it was under girded by the Covenant of Circumcision (His promise to give them the land), which was the basis of God's longsuffering towards them (see my JIRBS article or this podcast series for an elaboration )
    2. Because Mosaic curse and blessing (entering and remaining in the land) was conditioned upon outward obedience to the letter of the law (though God still required full obedience from the heart under the terms of the Adamic Covenant of Works, which the unregenerate were also under) See Post-Fall Covenant of Works?
      1. They pointed to Jeremiah 7 as why this was false, saying that Israel was resting in the sacrificial system. But Jeremiah 7:9 says "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known?" That's not outward obedience to the letter of the law. That's outward disobedience to the letter of the law. And it is not our position that those things can be remedied with the sacrificial system. Only certain sins could be atoned for, most of which were ceremonial uncleanness.
      2. They argue that obedience to the commandments was tethered to tenure in the land, but it is Spirit-wrought, faith-fueled obedience, the same in nature as what is required in the New Covenant. The problem here is that it makes Lev 18:5 a condition of the Covenant of Grace (note the reference to Lev 18:5 in the OPC version of WCF 19.6). See
  6. "Bare resemblance typology": The brothers on the podcast repeatedly derided what they called "bare resemblance" or "doppelgänger" typology, belittling the idea of NC grace being communicated to OT saints by means of typology as word pictures informing the "noetic prowess" of OT believers (see points about effectual calling by the Word above). But please carefully consider Vos' comments in The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

    “The Old Testament law is dispensed with because of its weakness and unprofitableness. Its weakness is not merely a matter of degree, for in reality it accomplished nothing, since it made nothing perfect and did not lead to the goal. This is further implied in the quotation from Jer. 31:31, quoted in Heb. 8:8-12. The fathers did not continue in the covenant made with them. But in the new Berith the law would be put in their minds and written in their hearts. And the further promise is added: “Their sins I will remember no more.” In both these respects, therefore, the Old Testament law is inefficacious. In verse 7 the author goes on to say that God found fault with the first covenant, for otherwise there would have been no place found for a second…

    But how could a true religion exist under such a system at all? Several observations are in order. First, we may turn to the types of the Old Testament as something which should have led the people to something better. The author does not make much of this, however. The types were primarily for the people, but objectively they were for the mind of God. Nowhere in the Epistle has the author set himself really to solve the problem as stated above. Nor is it really solved in Paul’s epistles. Still there was a possibility of the significance of the sacrificial system entering into the subjective mind of the Old Testament believers, by the latter raising themselves to a higher state through the types. We see an indication of this possibility first at 10:3. In the Old Testament sacrifices there was a remembrance made of sin year by year. This was necessary, since it was impossible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. This yearly practice was not intended merely for an objective purpose; it was a remembrance in the minds of the people. Because of this remembrance the Psalmist, in Psalm 40, was led to speak concerning sacrifices which would satisfy the will of God. It should be noted that it was the Psalmist who rose to this consciousness - an inspired writer, not an ordinary individual believer under the Old Testament. Still, he did write it, with the result that higher consciousness later became the common property of Old Testament believers. It was with the aid of revelation, therefore, that this higher consciousness was brought about.

    Likewise Psalm 110 is quoted. Here we have the prophecy of a future Priest, after the order of Melchizedek. Thus there was the consciousness of a higher order of priesthood than the Levitical being possible, and there was the prophecy that at a future time such higher priesthood would become actual.

    Psalm 95 is also quoted, which speaks of the rest of Canaan. This idea of rest is eschatological, looking forward to the true rest which is to come in the future. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews here again recognized, in one of the Old Testament Psalms, a certain higher consciousness on the part of the people of the Old Testament...

    The Old Testament, however, had more than these mere symbols and ceremonies. It also contained direct promises, many of which were spiritual in content. And these promises were given repeatedly, form age to age. Therefore it was not necessary for the Old Testament believers to live exclusively on the basis of insight into the meaning of the types. Of these promises the author of Hebrews speaks much." (64-67)
  7. "Disconnecting the New Covenant from Christ": To disagree with Bucey on the nature of the Old Covenant puts one on the trajectory of theological liberalism denying the incarnation? Really? Bucey says of this hypothetical position "Well, the Old Covenant was just one way that some abstract Grace of Christ was applied, and the New Covenant is just the newer way by which this abstract Grace or merit or being of Christ is applied... [T]hey both just kind of take some sort of abstract Grace or benefit of Christ and just apply it in different ways... If the old Covenant just illustrated Christ. But it's still Christ. They might want to flatten and say so also, the New Covenant merely illustrates Christ. And you do find similar issues where people will not want to say that the Lord's Supper or baptism are a means of Grace"

    When we deny that Christ's benefits are conveyed to OT believers "by virtue of these very forms [OT sacrifices] - not merely something that they trigger or something that they point to in a formal way" we are not teaching that OT saints receive some abstract Grace or merit - depending on what Bucey means by "abstract." We believe that OT saints were united to Christ (who was to be incarnate) and that they received the benefits of Christ's atonement by virtue of that union with Christ, not by virtue of the blood of bulls and goats. In that sense, it is not abstract grace. It is grace that comes through union with Christ. We simply deny that the blood of bulls and goats is that union (if Bucey wants to put it in those terms). The New Covenant is union with Christ and the OT saints receive the benefits of Christ, the benefits of Christ were communicated to them, by virtue of that New Covenant union, which they possessed.

    Bucey suggests that our view would entail the disconnecting of Christ from the New Covenant. Presbyterians tend to view the New Covenant primarily in terms of "administration" (see Bucey's comment above about Lord's Supper and baptism being the New Covenant) whereas we tend to view it primarily in terms of union with Christ. I believe this is no small part of often talking past each other. So I hear him say our view entails that we must disconnect Christ from the New Covenant and I really scratch my head. We believe the New Covenant is union with Christ, so how does that entail disconnecting Christ from the New Covenant? But I think what Bucey means is that disconnecting Christ sacramentally from the blood of bulls and goats entails disconnecting Christ sacramentally from baptism and the Lord's Supper - because he thinks of the New Covenant primarily in terms of administration. If we think that someone can be saved and receive the benefits of Christ apart from OT sacramental presence of Christ, then we must also think that someone can be saved and receive the benefits of Christ apart from NT sacramental presence of Christ. To which I would say - it is the reformed teaching that sacrements are not necessary to salvation and receiving the benefits of Christ, so that's not really a point of disagreement. But more to the point, I think Bucey may be correct that disagreement on OT sacramental presence or efficacy entails disagreement over NT sacramental presence or efficacy, but I would not refer to that as "abstract grace." I will leave it at that for now...
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The Joyful Curmudgeon
Staff member
Not much of a fan of Reformed Forum. There were remnants of Klinianism in Lane Tipton when I conversed with him years ago. I still have the emails.

Here I address a few of the topics Brandon commented on above. I really don't want to get into the typology argument because it is much more simpler than that I believe. Maybe I am just a simpleton.

From my blog.... PT
Paul’s Use of Lev. 18:5 in Rom. 10:5
Pastor Patrick Ramsey
The following is (I trust) a simple but not simplistic explanation of Paul’s use of Leviticus 18:5 in Romans 10:5.
In 9:30-10:5 Paul explained the reason the Jews did not attain righteousness even though they pursued it. They mistakenly pursued it by works (9:32). Hence, they stumbled over the stumbling stone (9:33). They sought to establish their own righteousness (10:3). Ignorant of the right way to righteousness, although they should have known better, they zealously pursued life on the basis of their own obedience to the law.
In Rom. 10:5 Paul describes this wrong way of pursuing life (righteousness) from the OT, namely Leviticus 18:5 (see also Neh. 9:29; Eze. 20:11, 13, 21): “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” Now the fact that Paul appeals to Moses to describe the wrong way, or if you will, the Pharisaical way of pursuing righteousness, is somewhat perplexing. As a result, this verse, along with its counterpart in Gal. 3, is quite controversial among commentators and theologians.
Here is the difficulty from three different perspectives. First, in 9:32, Paul had said that the law itself did not teach that righteousness was based on works or obedience to the law. The Jews pursued the law as if it led to righteousness. The Jews, as the NT says elsewhere, misread the OT. And yet Paul seems to be saying in vs. 5 that the OT did in fact teach and exhort the people to pursue life/righteousness by keeping the law. How then can Paul (or the rest of the NT) condemn the Pharisees for seeking righteousness by works if that is what Moses told them to do?
Second, in vs. 8 Paul will quote Deut. 30 and later on he will cite Isaiah and Joel in direct contrast to Lev. 18:5 to describe the right way to find life and righteousness. So then it would seem that Paul pits Moses against Moses and the OT against the OT.
Third, the context of Lev. 18:5 doesn’t seem to support the way Paul uses it in Rom. 10:5. Moses exhorts Israel to keep God’s commandments in the context of redemption and covenant. Verses 1-3 highlight the point that Israel already belongs to God as his redeemed people. These verses are very similar to the prologue to the Ten Commandments, which teaches that salvation precedes obedience. God didn’t give Israel the law so that they might be saved. He saves them so that they might keep the law. In short, the context of Lev. 18:5 speaks against the idea that it teaches legalism or a work-based righteousness. Yet, that is how Paul is using this verse!
Now some have sought to solve this difficulty by saying that there is no actual contrast between verses 5 and 6. The “but” of vs. 6 should be translated “and.” The problem with this, however, is that it doesn’t fit the context of Paul’s argument. The apostle, beginning in 9:30 is contrasting two ways of seeking righteousness—works and faith—and this contrast clearly continues in vs. 5. This is confirmed by the fact that Paul speaks of works righteousness or righteousness based on law elsewhere (Gal. 3; Phil. 3:9) in a negative way.
So then how are we to understand what Paul is saying in vs. 5 (and in Gal. 3)? Well, Paul is citing Lev. 18:5 according to how it was understood by the Jews of his day; and no doubt how he understood it before his conversion. The Jews of Paul’s day saw obedience to the law (which included laws pertaining to the atonement of sins) as the source of life and as the basis of salvation. Keeping the law was the stairway to heaven. The way to have your sins forgiven and to be accepted by God was to observe the law. Lev. 18:5 provided biblical support for this Pharisaical position. And it is not hard to see why they would appeal to this verse since it says that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.
In Rom. 10:6ff Paul refutes this works-based righteousness position including the Jewish appeal to Lev. 18:5. Now he doesn’t do it in the way you or I might think of doing it. We might tend to respond to the Pharisee and say: “Look, you have completely misunderstood what Moses is saying in Lev. 18:5. The specific and general context of that verse indicates that your interpretation is incorrect…” Instead, Paul uses a technique that was quite common in his day. He counters their interpretation of Lev. 18:5 by citing another passage: Deut. 30:12-14. In other words, Paul is saying that Deut. 30 demonstrates that the Jewish understanding of Lev. 18:5 is incorrect. We of course sometimes use this type of argument today. For example, some people today appeal to James 2 to prove that we need to obey the law in order to be justified. One way to disprove that interpretation would be to cite Paul in Romans or Galatians. So Paul is not pitting Moses against Moses in vv. 5-6 or saying that Moses taught salvation by works. Rather the apostle is using one Mosaic passage to prove that the legalistic interpretation of another Mosaic passage is wrong.


The Joyful Curmudgeon
Staff member
pt 2

A statement was also made how the Mosaic should be viewed as an administration of death. I actually believe the above helps us answer this problem but I also saw this. We as fallen people tend to want to turn the Covenant of Grace into a Covenant of Works. Many people even do this concerning the New Covenant today when they add works to the equation of justification by faith.

In light of the passage mentioned in 2 Corinthians 3, which calls the Old an administration of Death, one must also read the prior passages to understand what context St. Paul is referring to the Mosaic Covenant in.

(2Co 2:14) Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.
(2Co 2:15) For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:
(2Co 2:16) To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?
(2Co 2:17) For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.
Christ and the Gospel were Preached in Moses and the Old Testament. In fact Jesus said as much as did the author of Hebrews.

(Luk 24:27) And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
(Joh 5:46) For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
(Joh 5:47) But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?
(Heb 4:2)
For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
(Heb 4:3)
For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
The Mosaic was an administration of death the same way the New Covenant is to those who seek to turn the New Covenant into a Covenant of Works. We are so inclined to stumble because we will not believe Moses or Christ. We naturally tend to corrupt the Word of God and the Covenant of Grace by wanting to add our works into our justification before God. In doing so we are refusing the Cornerstone and Saviour. We become like those that Paul is speaking about, “to one they [Paul and the Apostles] are a savour of death unto death.” And how is to be considered that Paul and the Church is a savour unto death? They are because they do what Paul says he doesn’t do in the proceeding verse, “For we are not as those who corrupt the Word of God.” Those who corrupt the word are rejecting the Chief Cornerstone and depending upon their works or acts that contribute to their justification. The book of Galatians, Romans, and Hebrews have warnings and correctives for those who corrupt the word. But when they reject the truth they fall deeper into death. Even St. Paul acknowledged that the Law didn’t kill him. He was already dead and discovered it.

Rom 7:13    Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.

On another note I would mention that some say that the Mosaic was a Covenant that administered the Covenant of Grace as well as the Covenant of Works. Some differentiate that works was required in order for the Israelite’s to stay in and be blessed in the Land. They stayed in the Land based upon their works. Some say that this is different from the New Covenant. I am not seeing this difference. There are conditions set for us to remain in the Church even. For one thing Jesus himself said in Revelation 2 that he would remove a local Church’s candlestick if they didn’t repent. In 1 Corinthians 5 a man who was found to be exceedingly sinful was to be delivered to Satan and excommunicated from the Church. In Galatians 6:7 we are told that we reap what we sow.

I actually see what happened to the Church in the Old Covenant to be very gracious and just a form of discipline and general equity which we should experience now. It was grace that chastisement happened. It was grace that brought Israel back into the Land. They were the Church that was redeemed from bondage. God called them His people. They grew from dwelling in the wilderness to possessing the land. If it was by works then they would have never been brought back as they were. It looks quite the same to me as the man in 1 Corinthians 5. A casting out was performed. Excommunication was evident. Restoration by God’s grace was confirmed. The substance of both the Old pedagogical Covenant and the New are essentially the same. Salvation, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, and sanctification for the Church is the same between both the old and new. It is all by God’s Covenant of Grace. The substance seems to be the same to me.

Well, this is some of the stuff I am seeing now days. I do believe that works are important and a big part of our salvation. But I speak of salvation as a whole. Not in the respect of purely justification. There are no works considered in our justification. I do believe that our Union in Christ brings a twofold Grace of justification and sanctification. You can not separate them from our salvation. They are not dichotomized but are distinct in the process of salvation. It is all by Grace as St. Paul said. It is all by Grace as St. Paul said. This tension seems hard to process but it is summed up in Ephesians 2:8-10 and Philippians 2:12,13.

(Eph 2:8-10) For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
(Php 2:12,13)Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
Now a word from our Covenant Theologian John Ball…..
Under this Covenant, the natural seed of Abraham bore the face of the Church and state, and God had promised abundance of temporals, and of spiritual a scantling; But all under the outward administration of the Covenant, were not in like manner partakers of the blessings promised in Covenant. For some had their part in temporal blessings only, and the outward ordinances; others were partakers of the spiritual blessings promised. But whatever good thing any of them enjoyed either temporal or spiritual, it was conferred upon them freely according to the Covenant of Grace, and not for the dignity of their works. It is true, the promise is conditional, if they obey, they shall reap the good things of the Land: but obedience was not a causal condition, why they should inherit the Land…So that herein there appears no intexture of the Covenant of works with the Covenant of Grace, nor any moderation of the Law to the strength and power of nature for the obtaining of outward blessings. But rather that God out of his abundant goodness is pleased freely to confer outward blessings promised in the Covenant upon some that did not cleave to him unfainedly, that he might make good his promise unto the spiritual seed, which by word and oath he had confirmed unto the Fathers.
(John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace [1645], 142).
I also hope you take some time to look at my blog on Galatians, the WCF and Chapter 19, and my posts on the Mosaic and the Covenant of Works in reference to republication.

Speaking of historical quotes, we see here the beautiful essential unity in substance between Old/New Covenant and law/gospel:

“These things no doubt sufficiently shew that God has never made any other covenant than that which he made formerly with Abraham, and at length confirmed by the hand of Moses. This subject might be more fully handled; but it is enough briefly to shew, that the covenant which God made at first is perpetual.
Let us now see why he promises to the people a new covenant. It being new, no doubt refers to what they call the form; and the form, or manner, regards not words only, but first Christ, then the grace of the Holy Spirit, and the whole external way of teaching. But the substance remains the same. By substance I understand the doctrine; for God in the Gospel brings forward nothing but what the Law contains. We hence see that God has so spoken from the beginning, that he has not changed, no not a syllable, with regard to the substance of the doctrine. For he has included in the Law the rule of a perfect life, and has also shewn what is the way of salvation, and by types and figures led the people to Christ, so that the remission of sin is there clearly made manifest, and whatever is necessary to be known.” ~ John Calvin on Jeremiah 31:31
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