By Elder W. H. Richards
This little booklet was not written by our dear Brother Richards to be printed in a book, but only for the paper, but when I read it, I felt that it should be preserved in a pamphlet and after getting his consent we send it forth with the sincere desire and belief that others will be benefited by a perusal of its pages. Elder Richards is one of our most humble and active ministers and is held in high esteem by all who know him. May the blessing of Heaven attend him in his ministry, and may he be spared many years to comfort the Lord’s people, is my prayer.
J. G. WEBB
This little book is being reprinted upon the urgent request of Brother J. L. Brooks, of Kirkland Texas, and many other brethren and sisters. We too feel, as old Elder Webb did, that the little work should be preserved. For since this book was first put out by Elder Webb my father, Elder W. H. Richards has without doubt been as active a minister as our people have had in Texas. He has baptized more than a thousand of the Lord’s little children, has ordained many ministers and planted many churches. His hundreds of friends, both in the church and on the outside, will be glad to have a copy of this little book. May the Lord Bless Brother Brooks and all the others who have taken such an interest in my father in his old days. We have heard my father say that he might not be able to say as Paul did that he had “fought a good fight”, but he could say he had “fought a hard fight.” May God give the young ministers faith to keep the faith as our old fathers before us did.
H. G. RICHARDS
THIRD PRINTING: 1945, BANNER OF LOVE
AFTON B. RICHARDS
FOURTH PRINTING: 1991, BANNER OF LOVE
DON R. RICHARDS
Brother Webb:— It has been on my mind for some time to write a sketch of my experience and call to the ministry, and some of my travels; and hoping that it will be of some comfort to the Lord’s people, I have decided to write and submit it to your judgment, and you may do as you like about publishing it.
I was born in Johnson County, Texas, near where Grandview now stands, June 4, 1861. My father was a Cumberland Presbyterian preacher when I was born, and my mother was a zealous member of the same church, and they had me sprinkled while I was quite young.
Johnson County was at that time a very sparsely settled country and stock raising was the principal industry. So I was a cowboy. My parents used all the care possible to raise me in the right manner. I was compelled to go to Sunday School when there was any to go to. I had very serious thoughts about death when I was small. I remember once when I was seven years old hearing an old preacher talk about the line of accountability. He placed it at the age of about twelve years, so I was glad that I was not yet twelve for I thought if I should die I would be saved.
I left my father’s house when I was sixteen years old, and went west to work on a ranch. I fell in with the habits of the cowboys with all the aptness that a duck would learn to swim. Of all the vices and follies I was partaker.
When I was nineteen years old I was married to Miss Mattie Hewett, who possessed a sweet hope at the time of our marriage. Our oldest son was born when I was twenty-one years old. I was living on a ranch, managing a stock of cattle and kept about me a bunch of tough cowboys, I being as tough as the toughest of them
One day in June 1883, I was sitting in front of the little cabin in which we lived, playing the violin. My little baby boy was prattling about my feet when all at once the little fellow jabbered an oath, which was the plainest word that he had ever spoken; and just that moment it appeared to me that I was the vilest sinner that the Lord had ever suffered to live on this earth; that I was lost; that the time had been when I could have been saved, but now I had crossed over the line where hope and mercy could not reach me that I had sinned away the day of grace; that the Lord had blessed my home with a sweet little boy, and now the first word of his mouth was an oath. 0! the agony of my poor soul no human tongue could describe nor pen paint. I laid the violin down and walked off from the house thinking that I would rid my mind of the awful thought that I must soon pass away and perish forever for my sins. I have heard people tell of how they quit swearing, but swearing quit me. My wife, mother and all my associates could see that there was some thing awful the matter with me but no one ventured to ask me my troubles. I shunned everybody wishing to be alone. I could scarcely eat or sleep. I would get out in the darkness of the night and fall prostrate on the ground to try to pray but could not.
There was a Missionary Baptist meeting to begin on Friday night before the second Sunday in July, and I asked the Lord to let me live until that meeting that I might have an opportunity to seek my soul’s salvation. I thought if I could have that one more opportunity and then the Lord didn’t save me I could be better reconciled to my lost condition. In all of my agony of soul and anguish of heart I never thought for a moment that it was unjust.
I began to desire to talk to some one about my condition and to ask some Christian to pray for me. I have all my life been disposed to keen my troubles to myself, but now it seemed to me that if I could get to tell some one just how I felt, maybe I would feel better. I did not want my wife and mother to know for fear it would cause them trouble. So one day I went to the little town of Thorpe Spring, and as I returned home I fell in company with an old Brother John Vann who was a deacon among the Missionaries and a man in whom I had a great deal of confidence; I began to try to approach him concerning my condition, and it was quite a task, but finally I managed to mention the fact that I was in a great deal of trouble and he said, “Well, Hamp, you haven’t kept this thing a secret. I have known for three weeks that you were in trouble.” And he began and talked to me freely about Jesus and what He suffered that poor sinners might go free; and he said to me just as we parted, I feel good about you for the apostle said, “I am confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ,” and he said “the Lord has begun a good work in you.” But I could not see why he should feel good about me, for 1 felt sure that I was lost and gone beyond redemption.
I reached home about sundown, unsaddled my pony and turned him loose thinking I would never see him again and that I would never live to see the sun rise in the morning. As I walked in at the door my wife said to me “What is the matter with you?” I said, 0! nothing” and threw myself across the bed and there was a time I did not know anything. But all at once the Scripture came to my mind “Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost,” and just then my burdens all left me and I was full of praising, and the thought came to me that I would attend a meeting that was to begin in a few days and that I would tell the people, especially the mourners how Christ came to seek and save that which was lost. I thought I could just make every body see how it was Jesus that did the seeking and saving, and that no criminal ever got too far for Jesus to save.
The next morning when I awoke the sun was shining and I thought it shone with more luster and brightness than I had ever seen. I was now cheerful and happy, and 0! if I could always feel as I did that morning this earth would be as good heaven as I desire.
In a day or two the meeting began and I went to the first service my father lived between where I lived and the arbor. He had been out of any church for twelve years, so I came home from the meeting on Friday night and I stopped at his gate and called him out and told him that I wanted him to go with me the next day and join the Missionaries. The next morning when I reached his house he was gone and when I got to the house he was in the stand singing, and when they offered an opportunity he joined. My mother and I also joined. The meeting continued for two weeks and I never missed a service. I thought several times during the meeting that I would get up and talk, but my courage would fail me.
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The impression to preach was now bearing me down, but I thought, “Surely I am mistaken. The Lord certainly would not call as poor, illiterate boy as I am.” So I would attend the prayer meetings and all other meetings near me and I would hear the people tell their experiences and the preachers tell of their call to the ministry and they would all tell how their hearts were burdened with the worth of immortal souls, and I knew that I had no such feelings and I would think of my text, “Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost.” So I tried to reconcile myself that the Lord had not called me, but I bought every book that I could that would help me out any about preaching, thinking that just as soon as I could acquire some knowledge I would then let the church know that I wanted to preach. The preachers would come and stay with me and ask me if I did not feel impressions to preach, and my reply was “I have never felt burdened with the worth of immortal souls.”
I went on in this way for fourteen years and during this time I joined the Masons and the Odd Fellows. The fourth Sunday in May or June 1896 I took my family and went ten miles to see the Old Baptists commune and wash feet. This was at Providence church in Erath county. I had been a strong believer in feetwashing in the church ever since I obtained a hope and this was my first opportunity to see the sight.
When we reached the place the house was crowded so that I could not get a seat in the house, so I found room for my wife in the house and I got a seat outside near the corner of the house, and the brethren took a window out near where I was seated and Elder R. A. Biggs stood in the window and preached, and t was wonderfully impressed with the man when he first arose and began to introduce the service. He was so humble and had a solemn sound different to anything that I had ever heard. When I placed my eyes upon him, they filled with tears and after he had lined and sang a hymn and prayed a solemn impressive prayer he arose and announced his text, which i shall never forget. “And thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and the remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem:” and my text came to my mind? “Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost.” I knew that I never had in my life feasted on preaching as I did on that. I had never before heard a Primitive Baptist preach. Now I do not say that I had never before heard any gospel, for I had heard several men preach who would declare that salvation was by grace, but they would always spoil it before they quit; and I believe yet that there are some of the Lord’s called ministers among the institutions called churches, and they preach some gospel but it is perverted gospel.
While Elder Biggs was preaching I thought. “Surely this is none other than the house of the Lord,” and the thought suggested itself to me to join them and then I thought the sacrifice would be too great. As we went home I asked my wife if she had listened to the preacher, and she said, yes, part of the time. I asked her how she liked the sermon. She said she liked a part of it very well, and I told her that if that man had not preached the truth that I would not know the truth if I should hear it. She said, “If you don’t watch you will be a Hardshell.” I said, “If that is Hardshell doctrine, I am already one.”
A few days later I met Brother Aflard and was bragging to him about the sermon, and he gave me bro. Fisher’s book (Reasons for Leaving the Missionaries) and I began reading the book and thought and thought that I would mark it where ever it failed to track the Scripture. So when I was through reading the book I told my wife that I was a Hardshell. I carried a Testament in my pocket all the time and was reading it every spare moment; and every man with whom I got in conversation I was, as they called it, trying to poke Hardshellism down him.
The impression to preach was now on me with more force and power than it had ever been. My mother came to stay with us awhile, and my wife told her that she wanted her to watch me—that I was going crazy. Mother told her, “No, he is going to join the Hardshells and will be preaching for them in less than six months.”
I would think about joining the church, and would then think about what I would have to forsake, and then the text came to me, “Except you forsake all these you can’t be my disciple.” I would go to the lodge meetings and it had lost its sweetness to me. I would attend the meeting of the Missionary church of which I was a member and clerk, and there was nothing in it for me. I would go to Providence every meeting and they had up church trouble and I thought I never saw such kind, tender gospel dealings in my life.
Well, in the time of all this my house was burned down at midnight and it was the narrowest kind of an escape for us all. We lost all that we had—even our wearing apparel—and there we were, out in the road wife and five children, in our night clothing only and without a cent. My wife and children were crying. I was stout hearted and told them to hush; that we were all alive and that we could soon work and earn some more; and that we should be thankful to the Lord that our lives were spared. Just then it appeared to me that this had come upon me for my disobedience and I melted down, crying and begging the Lord for His mercy. The Masons came to my relief and gave me $80 and very soon we had another house up and plenty of clothing. I was still in doubt about my duty, and so one Thursday I walked off down into a wood land in front of my house and fell prostrate upon the ground with my face in the sand and there I began begging the Lord to show me what He would have me to do. I was in such trouble that it seemed I could not bear it any longer; and all at once just as if it had been an audible voice it came to me, “Whosoever forsaketh father and mother, wife and children, houses and lands, for my sake shall have all these things in this world and in the world to come, everlasting life.” I jumped up on my feet and spoke aloud, that I would join the Hardshells (for that was all I knew to call them) if they would have me, if it left me without a friend on earth. I had already gotten to the place where I was willing to give up everything that was holding me back except the church fellowship of my wife, and now I felt willing to leave her with the Missionaries and go to church even if she should forsake me. So the next Saturday morning I saddled my horse, stepped to the dining room door where she was and said to hers “Mattie, I love you as well as any man ever loved a woman on this earth, but I am going to join the Hardshells today if it leaves me without a friend on earth.” And I left her crying and went. Of course I felt bad, but felt determined to offer myself, no matter what might oppose.
When I got to the church a number of the brethren and sisters were singing the sweet songs of Zion, and after Elder B. J. Driver had preached they offered an opportunity and I offered myself and told my hope to them and was received. I was not surprised for they had shown to me that they loved me and had encouraged me to lay down my Masonry and come to the church which I think is the duty of the Lord’s people. If you see a poor little child that you have reason to believe loves the Lord and His people, give him some word of encouragement.
This was Saturday before the fourth Sunday in June, 1897. I was baptized by Elder R. A. Biggs on the fourth Sunday following.
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I then felt that my troubles were at an end; that my impressions had all the time been leading me to the church and not to preach, and 0! I felt so easy. But in a few days the impressions came on me with a renewed force to preach, and my mind was entirely absorbed in the matter. Well I began to try to trade with the Lord. I wanted some evidence that the Lord had called me. I believed that if He had called me He would enable me to preach; so I wanted the brethren to be impressed with my call and to find it out without my telling them.
One day in September while on my way to meeting, I said, “Now if the Lord has called me, I want the preacher to point me out and ask me to speak and I will try if I die in the attempt.” So when I got to the church old Elder Stinnet was there and he got up talked for a while and sat down, and Elder Driver got up but did not stand but a short time. I was on a seat near the center of the house, and could not hold up my head. So Brother Driver spoke to me and said, “Brother Richards, don’t you feel like saying something”. I got up and talked for a while and when I sat down one brother made a motion and another seconded it to license me to exercise in public. I asked them not to do that but to pray for me for the next month that if I were deceived that the Lord would show it to me; but the moderator put the motion and it carried, and I begun to think, “What will I do? I have suffered the church to license me and now if I am deceived the reproach is greater than it would have been had I kept them from doing that.” But I went on trying to speak in public for a few times, and felt some relief. But about the fourth attempt I made an awful failure, and then resolved to die stone dead before making another attempt. But I knew that I would have to leave that country for the brethren would not leave me alone; so I made up my mind to leave the country and began to make preparations to that end. I had nothing but a pair of old ponies and an old wagon; and I thought just as soon as I could gather my crop that I would put my family in the wagon and we would go to where there was no one that knew me: and I studied about that all the time. One night I dreamed that I had moved and settled by a beautiful river and the people were all strange to me. I dreamed of seeing four men sitting in a circle, all engaging in conversation, and I had a desire to know what they were talking about. So drew near and heard one say “There will be preaching at the school house tomorrow about four miles from here.” Another said, “Who is it?” He said, “It is the Old Baptists” so I thought to myself I would sure go and so I did. I thought that when I got there Elder J. S. Newman was in the stand reading, and I thought, “he will not know me” as I had not seen him but once. I dreamed that I took a seat near the middle of the room and put my hand over my mouth to keep Joe from recognizing me. He raised his eyes from his bible, looked straight at me, laid down his book, and came to me and said, “don’t I know you” I said “No Sir.” He said, “Did I not meet you at the Old Harmony Association in July?” I said, “you are mistaken in the man.” He said, “Is not your name W .H. Richards?” I said, “No Sir.” and awoke and the thought came to me, “You have done worse than Peter. You have denied your own name.” And I could not restrain from weeping.
I thought about the dream until the thought came to me that the Lord had given me the dream to keep me from running away; so I decided that I would go on and discharge my duty submitting to the will of my brethren, and if the Lord had called me He would enable me to comfort His people, and if they were comforted that I would be satisfied. So I continued to exercise at times as the brethren would insist on me, for about eighteen months and then some brethren made a regular appointment for me at a school house where there was a church that had gone down to three members and those members decided to hold conference. This they did and called me to their care, and I was greatly troubled to know what to do and asked them to call Elder H. L. Collings to serve them and I would assist. But Elder Collings advised me to go on and serve them and if there was any official work to do they could call in some ordained minister; so I decided to continue to try to preach for them and moderate for them which I did, and there was some ingathering by letter.
During this time I was corresponding with a minister who wanted me to come up to Palo Pinto County and care for three churches. It was about 65 miles from where I lived, and a rough road, and I was really afraid to venture out, thinking that little fish should stay near the shore. So I made an excuse of the distance and rough roads; but in June EIder A. P. Koen came through our country on a tour, and found out that I had some, thoughts about going up there. He was going to that country so he insisted a little and I borrowed a buggy from Brother J. B. Garrett and put my horse to it and we went. The night before we got there I had a dream that bothered me until I told Elder Koen. I will hear relate the dream:
I thought I was at home and a man rode up to my gate on a mule and called me out. He was a peculiar looking man with long hair and a large scar on his head. He told me that he wanted me to shear some sheep for him. I told him that I did not have time. He said it will not take long and I will furnish the shears.” and turned and rode away. So I wondered why he said it would not take me long and the thought came to me in the dream that his sheep had the scab and it seemed that I could see a bunch of scabby sheep all shedded off behind the shoulders, as I had seen them often. I then awoke.
After I told the dream to Elder Koen it left my mind and we got to the place of meeting. The preacher who had written me was up preaching. After preaching was over I went home with an old brother who was very bald headed and what hair he had was very long. But still I did not think about the dream until he said to me after dinner, “Brother Richards what would be the chance to get you to come up here and serve this church?” I said, “Oh it is too far and I have a large crop and don’t think I can come.” He said, “Well, if you will come we will pay you well. I was shocked and it came to my mind, You are the very fellow that wanted me to shear his sheep.” So I put him off just as soon as I could. After awhile Elder Koen and the preacher that wanted me to take the care of the church came over where I was and that preacher said to me “Brother Richards, I want to state to you the condition of the church and get you to tell me what you think about their order. They have had a preacher as pastor who was ordained by a presbytery, one of whom was in gross disorder, and he baptized two of them. One of them is still a member but is not physically able to be baptized. Now what do you think about them? Are they in disorder or not?
I said, “Well, I am too young and weak to advance an idea on order, but I am a member of a church that would consider that disorder.” Well, I could see, as I thought the bunch of scabby sheep, so I did not take the care of the church.
The next day we all went on to the next appointment and nothing would do that preacher but that I must try to preach at night. It was in a Methodist church in town and the house was crowded. So I got up and of all the failures I ever made—which are legion—this seemed to me to be the worst. I did not stand but a few minutes until I sat down and tried to hide from the congregation; but the chair on which I was sitting was too high for me to get as low as I wanted to, so I got down on the rostrum, and still I was not hidden as completely as I desired. There was a window just back of where I was sitting and I turned and thought I would raise the sash and get out and leave, but my heart failed me; so I decided that just as service was over I would slip out and get my horse and buggy and go home that night. So just as soon as the benediction was pronounced I walked out and had gone fifty yards from the house when Elder Koen called me. He caught up with me and began trying to console me, but I told him that I was going home that night. He told me that he could not bear for me to leave them and insisted that I stay until morning and I did, but with the full intention of going home soon the next morning.
The next morning I started to catch my horse and leave and Elder Koen said to me, “Now Brother Richards, if you leave here this morning, Sunday as it is, it will look as if you were doing this to save a day.” “Well” I said: “I will stay until after services, with the understanding that you don’t ask me to take any part in the meeting,” and he agreed. But when we met at the house for service, the other preacher insisted that I should introduce the services; so I read a chapter and prayed. I felt that the Lord blessed me in the prayer, and then I decided that if I had a gift at all, that prayer was my gift and that I never would again attempt to speak in public while I lived. I thought then that no matter how much encouragement I received that I would never give way to it, and no one but one who has experienced it knows the suffering in mind that one must undergo in such cases. Truly did the prophet express it when he said “His word was in my heart, shut up as fire in my bones; I was weary with forbearing and could not stay.”
Well about this time my home church was left with out a pastor and the brethren from a sister church were visiting at our church. While in conference some of the brethren named that we were without a pastor and that we should call one and put in nomination two Elders. One of the visitors spoke up and asked why the church did not have me ordained, and some of the members expressed themselves as willing. I felt that I could not bear it and so I kindly asked the brethren not to ask me to submit to ordination; that I was young in the cause and that the apostle advised not to lay hands suddenly on a man and I believed the text had reference to such cases. So they proceeded to call Elder J. S. Newman to her care, and he accepted and I was very glad of it.
Elder Newman served us that year and if there ever was a nurse indeed I think Brother Newman is one. He continued to give me more encouragement; it seemed to me than I should have had.
At the September meeting Brother Newman was not present and after I had tried to preach on Saturday some of the brethren made a motion to call for a presbytery to ordain me, and after they had taken the vote I told them that if there was not a Baptist any where that would object I would submit. I felt then that Brother Newman would not help to ordain me, not but that I knew that he loved me, but I believed him to be faithful and I did not feel to possess the qualifications of an Elder and thought that he knew it, and for that cause would refuse to lay hands on me. So I wrote to him what the church had done and that they had set the next Saturday for the ordination, at which time the Duffau Association would be in session with our church and I especially wanted him to come, and if he ever had been or ever expected to be faithful in life, I wanted him to be faithful this time; and if he believed the church was making a mistake to say so; but that if he thought I should submit, that I was going to do so, and if not I would rebel.
Brother Newman left home before my letter reached his office and when he arrived on the association grounds I met him and asked if he had received a letter from me before he left home. He said that he had not and asked me what I wanted him to know. I told him what I had written and why I had wanted him there, and he put his arm around my neck and said, ‘Hamp, I never did a thing more freely in my life than will assist in ordaining you.” So my last prop was gone but still I never will feel more like a poor prisoner while I live should I be chained and in a dungeon.
The next year three churches called me to their care and I tried to serve them the best I could, with the understanding that as soon as they could do better they must do it. And I have felt all the time that any church that can get an humble minister that is sound in the faith can do better than to keep me as pastor, for the simple reason that I have not the gift of a pastor, neither have I thought that I was an evangelist, but if any thing at all a help. The Bible speaks of helps.
Well, very soon after I was ordained it came to my mind to move to Knox County. I had never seen Knox County, but it was on my mind continually to go; so in the summer of 1901 I visited Knox County; and while there I found that the Baptists had a desire for me to move among them. I did not see how I could make the move, for I was in debt and should I move the parties whom I owed would want what I was owing them. But Brother Lea wrote me if I owed debts that I could not pay, just let him know and he would send the money and pay them off. So I was left without an excuse. Brother Lea sent ninety dollars and paid off my indebtedness and on the 14th day of December, 1901, I loaded my wagon and started for Knox County.
The third day we were out it blowed the hardest norther, it seemed to me, that I was ever out in, and continued cold the entire trip and we all suffered greatly. One night we camped and it was cold. Every thing was frozen. We built a big log heap fire and my boys made their bed down near the fire and late in the night I awoke and their bed was a light flame of fire. They had seven quilts over them and it had not burned thru’ them all, so I grabbed up the quilts and told Brother Tom Garrett to bring me some water; but when he got to the water keg he found it frozen solid, so we had to just smother out the fire. We lost one quilt and had four others badly burned.
The tenth day after we started we arrived at Munday and found that the house we were to live in was occupied so we stayed a few days with Brother J. A. Reid and went into a camp made of two wagon sheets and stayed until we could get our house.
The Baptists were divided. There were two parties of them claiming to be the church, so I began to investigate and found that they had divided over the validity of a church letter that came from Arkansas. I knew that somebody was wrong, and thought if I could find out who it was and could show them their wrong they would repent, and could all live together (I have had more zeal than ability all the time) so I began to make propositions to the contending parties and got them nearly all to agree to leave their troubles to a council composed of Elders R. A. Biggs, J. S. Newman, A. P. Koen, and J. A. Paine. So the brethren came and said council, on investigation found that the disorder of the letters was on account of the churches of the Washington Association allowing their members to affiliate with secret institutions such as the Masonic Lodge. The question was asked by Elder J. S. Newman if there were any masons in the Church that those letters came from, and the answer was no, which was wrong, for there was at that time a member of that church in the neighborhood that would not join the Baptists here because of their objection to secret institutions. So the council decided that the letters were valid.
In June 1902 the Bonham Council was called and the churches appointed Brother Lea and myself to represent them in the council. But prior to this time Little Flock Church had passed a resolution against the predestination of sin, and agreed that they would not allow that doctrine preached in their stand. So when I returned from Bonham I had a private talk with Elder Burns and he and I agreed that we would not agitate the matter among the churches and that we would continue (as we had previously done) to exhort and admonish God’s people to love and good works and may be the division would not effect us. But alas! there were some among us that believed that doctrine and they could not be satisfied until they got some of the advocates of it to come among us; and of course they came preaching that “can’t-help-it” stuff in its fullness and I opposed it to a finish. So my home church appointed a committee to visit Little Flock church and labor with her, and when the committee met them they informed us that they were a separate and sovereign body and that it was none of our business what they did or whom they affiliated with, so we dropped them from our fellowship.
I have here given some of the cares that I have had since I enlisted among the Primitive Baptists. I could relate many more but I know that the Lord’s people all have troubles, and feeling that there would be no comfort to them in my troubles. I will desist However I Feel that I can say, “None of these things move me”.
Since beginning this sketch, Elder Webb and Biggs have requested me to allow it published in pamphlet Form, which I have consented to, with the understanding that charges will be just enough to cover expenses of publishing and distribution off the book. It is free as far as I am concerned.
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