Enduring Covenant Love
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, May 8, 2011
Copyright © 2011, P. G. Mathew
Romans 11:1-10 speaks of God's enduring covenant love for his people. The psalmist declares, "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes" (Ps. 118:8-9). Man lies and fails to keep his covenants, including the covenant of marriage, which he breaks through divorce. But God cannot lie, and he hates divorce; therefore, he will never break his covenant with us. The covenant love for his chosen people endures forever. Romans 9 speaks of God's sovereignty in our salvation. God saves those whom he has chosen from eternity. Romans 10 speaks of human responsibility. We must believe the gospel to be saved. Both divine sovereignty and human responsibility are true. Both divine election and divine reprobation are taught in the Bible. We do not try to reconcile these truths. They are mysteries to our finite minds. Try to reconcile the concept of the Trinity-one God existing in three persons. Both are true. There is an appearance of contradiction, yet in God there is no contradiction. This is called an antinomy. In Romans 11 Paul asks, in the light of the unbelief of the nation Israel to the gospel, "Did God reject his people?" In other words, "Did God cast away his own people, whom he foreknew, that is, whom he loved and therefore chose from all eternity?"
God's Eternal Purpose: Election
Paul's question evokes more questions. If God had rejected his people, what about God's eternal purpose? What about his covenant agreement with his people? Paul wrote earlier, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). Paul also says, "Yet before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose in election might stand . . ." (Rom. 9:11). Elsewhere he explains, "In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Eph. 1:11). God has a purpose for his people. God does not act emotionally, on a whim. God has a purpose, and he works it out. Through history he works out all of his purposes. In spite of our stubbornness and rebellion, in spite of the devil and demons, in spite of the enmity of the world, he fulfills his purpose. The question Paul is asking, then, is: Has God abandoned his plan and purpose for his people? If he did, how then can we trust God and his gospel? The truth is this: Our sin can never prevent God from saving us and making us into a holy people who will sparkle in heavenly glory. God justifies the ungodly. God's proximate purpose is to save a certain number of sinners, and his ultimate purpose is his own glory. Did God reject his people whom he loved from eternity? Paul emphatically states: MÍ genoitÍ! (Absolutely not!) Our God is unchangeable and can be trusted. He never violates his covenant. He fulfills every promise. This is the basis for all our prayer. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. In Amos 3:2 God declares, "You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth." Out of the thousands of nations in the world, God chose Israel. Paul writes, "For those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son" (Rom. 8:29). Peter speaks of God's people "who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood" (1 Peter 1:2). God saves those whom he has chosen in spite of their stubbornness, rebellion, wickedness, and sin. Saints of God, we can count on God's covenant and God's election! God will never reject us. Men may do so, but God never will. So Paul states in the indicative: "God has not rejected his people" (v. 2). The foreloved Jewish people are God's people. They also were Paul's people, about whose salvation he was always concerned. God does not reject his people. Although the people of Israel had committed wickedness, Samuel said to them, "You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own" (1 Sam. 12:20-22). Psalm 94:14 affirms, "For the Lord will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance" (see also Deuteronomy 31:6 and Jeremiah 31:37). Man says, "I love you," but we cannot believe what he says. He may say, "I love you," one moment and the next moment state, "I hate you." Man's love disappears quickly like the morning mist. God alone can be trusted. Have you trusted him alone? Paul says, "If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself" (2 Tim. 2:13).
Proofs That God Did Not Reject His People
Paul then offered five proofs to show that God did not reject the Jewish people of his special love and favor.
1) Personal proof. Paul begins with the proof of his own life: "I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Abraham" (Rom. 11:1). In other words, he was saying, "Look at me. I myself am a full-blooded Jew, an Israelite [a covenant name God gave to Jacob]. I am of the seed of Abraham, who believed God and became the friend of God and the father of all believers. I am of the tribe of Benjamin, who alone was born in the land of Canaan. Jerusalem was in his territory. Benjamin stayed with Judah, and from Benjamin came the first king." It is true that Paul previously persecuted Christians. He says, "Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief" (1 Tim. 1:13). He elsewhere says, "For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers" (Gal. 1:13-14). He tried to destroy them, but Jesus Christ saved him. Paul's own salvation is the first proof that God did not reject his people.
2) Theological proof. This proof is based on the word "foreknown," which means foreloved. Paul is asking, "Has God rejected his people, whom he has foreknown? How can God reject the people whom he purposed to save, whom he loved from all eternity to save, whom he chose from all eternity to save?" God saves all his elect, whether Jew and Gentile. God will never reject his elect. Let God be true and all men liars. God is not a man that he should violate his covenant of love.
3) Biblical proof. Paul then explains, "Let us look at the time of the great apostasy in Israel, during the time of wicked Jezebel and Ahab." This was a time when Baalism was flourishing. Jezebel was destroying God's altars and killing God's prophets and other confessing saints. Her chosen religion of Baalism practiced sacramental sexual perversion to induce Baal to send rain for a bumper crop and harvest. Yet eight hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and Asherah failed to influence Baal to send even one drop of rain (1 Kings 18). Baalism still exists today. In fact, it is the dominant religion of this country and of the Western world, especially in its hatred of the Ten Commandments. People want to make more money so that they can engage in a hedonistic lifestyle even as their consciences grow increasingly numb. Baalism thrives because it rejects the moral law of God. People love it because it says they can do what they please. Baalism is antinomianism. The great prophet Elijah opposed Baalism, and Elijah's God proved himself to be the true God. He sent rain after he sent fire that consumed the sacrifice. The false prophets were killed. Then Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah within twenty-four hours. He was afraid and fled to Horeb, where God spoke with him. Elijah told God, "I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me." Elijah was depressed because he did not have all the facts. He was not looking to God, who had sent the fire and rain in the great contest with the prophets of Baal. He had become like Peter, who walked on the water, but sank when he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves (Matt. 14). Unbelief in God and his word is the cause of all Christian pessimism and depression (see Genesis 4:7 and Psalm 73). But God corrected Elijah. "Elijah, you are wrong. You are not the only one left. I have reserved for myself seven thousand men." Elijah was not alone; God always has a people who worship and serve him. The seven thousand men may have represented others of their families, for a total of maybe fifty thousand people. Elijah's problem was that he did not have all the facts. If you are depressed, look to God, and your face will be lifted up! You see a God who forgives your sins, who loves you, and who is faithful to keep his covenant. Each verse of Psalm 136 ends in the refrain: "His love endures forever." How can we look at the face of God in the holy Scriptures and be depressed and miserable? How can we complain and argue? Believe God, and you will become an eternal optimist. So God said, "I have reserved for myself seven thousand men who never surrendered to Baal. You are not the only one, Elijah. I have saved seven thousand more. They submit to me. They are mine." Christians, do not be ignorant. Do not judge by appearances alone. There is the Bible proof that God has not rejected his people. He does not save everyone, but he saves his elect. There is always a remnant saved by God, a people who worship and serve God, a people who oppose Baalism, and who function as light in the world in every era of redemptive history. The Bible is written that we may read it, trust God, and be happy. Paul says, "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). And he says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for [counsel]." Do you seek counsel from worldly people? They cannot help you. It is a godly pastor who can counsel you with the word of God, which alone is profitable for counsel, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness (see 2 Tim. 3:16).
4) Contemporary Proof. "So, too, at the present time there is a remnant according to the election based on grace" (v. 5, author's translation). Paul writes, "[God] saved us and called us to a holy life-not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace" (2 Tim. 1:9; see also Eph. 1:4 and others). God's election is from eternity. God chooses some sinners to salvation based on grace, that is, based on God's unmerited favor, not on human works. This election is not conditional upon human goodness. That is why we call it unconditional election. God does not choose to save the rest of sinners; he passes them by, and they face judgment based on their works. Salvation is based on election, on the grace of God alone. The elect are a minority, a remnant. The non-elect are the majority, who continue on the broad way to eternal destruction. We may have children in our homes who are going on the broad way. They may happily enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. But when we speak to them about the gospel, they do not respond because they are spiritually dead. Paul says, "There is now a remnant according to the election of grace." He was speaking about the New Testament church. Three thousand were saved when Peter preached his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Then it grew to five thousand, as the Lord added daily such as should be saved. In the early days of the church, the church consisted of only a few Jewish Christians. Then it grew until thousands believed, as we read in Acts 21:20: "When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul, 'You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed.'" Here again we see proof that God did not reject his people. The truth is that God has not rejected his people whom he has foreknown. Every elect will be saved. Election speaks of God's initiative. Only the elect of God will be saved, and all of the elect will be saved, both Jews and Gentiles. Salvation from beginning to end is of grace. It is never based on human works. So Paul says, "For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves-it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). Elsewhere he declares, "Being confident of this, he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6). He goes on to say, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but now much more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). Yes, God justifies the ungodly to make them godly. The saved will produce good fruits of good works, but good works are God's works, for which we cannot take credit. Has God reserved you for himself, to worship and serve him alone? Have you surrendered your whole being, body and soul, to Jesus Christ? If not, you are not elect, and you must fear and tremble. The Bible says, "Make your calling and election sure." We are not responsible for anyone else's calling and election. The question is, do we love God and keep his commandments? That is the test, the obedience of faith. That is how we make sure we are saved. An antinomian Baal-worshiper is not an elect.1
5) The Eschatological Proof. God has a plan for the Jewish people in the end. Paul teaches in Romans 11:11-32 that God has a great end-time plan for the salvation of the Jewish nation. Presently, the norm is a remnant minority who are saved; in the end times, it will be the majority of Jewish people. Jesus came to his own, and his own crucified him. But in the future, the Jews as a nation will receive their Messiah, as Zechariah prophesies, "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. . . . On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity." (Zech. 12:10; 13:1). God has not rejected the people whom he foreknew; their golden age is still coming. God's covenant love endures forever. Do not trust in covenant-breaking man; trust in God, who alone keeps his holy covenant with us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. How can he? He loved us and gave himself for us when he died on the cross. He will keep us from falling and present us before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy (Jude 24). We are God's elect, his chosen, his beloved. We are the people of his grace. Paul gloried in this word grace (charis). Sixty-three percent of the time charis is used in the New Testament (81 out of 128 occurrences), it is used by Paul. God showed grace to this murderous blasphemer, the chief of sinners, and Paul reveled in it. Israel, who worked hard to obtain salvation, failed because they refused to believe and receive the free gift (Rom. 11:7). Like the Pharisees, they wanted to earn it. They refused to understand that man is not just sick, but dead. Dead man cannot save himself. God must raise the dead and save him. But the elect obtained salvation. By grace we have been saved through faith. God never abandons the people whom he has chosen. He will save them, and he will present them before God in glory, with great joy. God is glorious, and he makes us glorious.
God's Eternal Purpose: Reprobation
The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of election and reprobation: V. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
VII. The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice. (WCF, Chapter 3, Articles 5, 7)
In these tightly reasoned articles, we notice that election is to "the praise of [God's] glorious grace," and reprobation is to "the praise of [God's] glorious justice." We must have reverence for this great God. He alone does what he pleases. What is election? It is God's sovereign action in reference to sinful men.2 Election is always to salvation. Election is from eternity past. Election implies differentiation, meaning some are chosen while others are not. (PGM) Election is unconditional, not based on our merits, but on God's grace alone. Salvation of a sinner depends on God's sovereign, eternal, unconditional election. Election is an expression of God's sovereign good pleasure. Election is immutable; therefore, the salvation of the elect is certain. Nothing, not even our sin, can prevent God from saving us. The elect are saved by irresistible grace. That does not mean we cannot try to resist God; it means we cannot win. Just study the lives of Moses, Jeremiah, and Paul. God always triumphs in his plan to save us. Salvation of the elect is not unjust. God chose sinners to salvation and punished his Son for their sins on the cross. Therefore God is just in justifying those who believe in Christ who died in their place for their sins. The elect are vessels of mercy prepared for glory. That is our future. As we said before, the proximate purpose of election is our salvation, and the ultimate purpose is the glory of God. We are for the praise of his glorious grace, as we read three times in Ephesians 1 (vv. 6, 12, 14). What, then, is reprobation? Reprobation means the rest, the non-elect, are passed by. They are ordained for dishonor and wrath for their sins. The Westminster Confession explains that this is based on the unsearchable counsel of God's own will. In other words, we have no say in it. That is why he is God. The sins of the reprobates are punished with eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46). They are hardened by God, though they harden themselves, being sinners. God interferes with special grace only in the life of the elect. The rest freely do what they please; there is no special grace intervention. The elect alone are disciplined. The reprobates receive no gracious discipline. Discipline is for God's children (Heb. 12). Reprobation is a biblical doctrine. The classic passage on election and reprobation is Romans 9, where Paul asks, "What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath-prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory-even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?" (Rom. 9:22-24). The destiny of the elect is glory. Jude also speaks about reprobates: "For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord" (Jude 4). Peter writes that Christ is "'a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.' They [the reprobates] stumble because they disobey the message-which is also what they were destined for" (1 Pet. 2:8). The Lord charged Isaiah, "Go and tell this people, be ever hearing but never understanding; be ever seeing but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people callused, make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed" (Isa. 6:9-10). In other words, he was telling Isaiah to go and make the hearts of his listeners like stone through his preaching. What a ministry! Yet we know that the hearts of the elect will be softened through the same preaching. Reprobates are in the visible church. Most leave, in due time, if the church exercises discipline, which is the third mark of the church. John says of such people: "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us" (1 John 2:19). But if reprobates are not disciplined, they can take over a church and make it a synagogue of Satan. This happened in many liberal churches, especially after the turn of the twentieth century. John Calvin called the doctrine of reprobation decretum horribile, which means "horrible decree." When the Lord hated Esau and hardened Pharaoh's heart, the Jews rejoiced, saying, "The Edomites and Egyptians are no good." But now we come to Romans 11, where Paul says the non-elect Israelites are also hardened: "The rest were hardened" (v. 7). Even so, non-elect Christians are hardened too. That is why they refuse to believe and surrender to Jesus Christ. So Paul deals with reprobation in verses 7 through 10. "What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened." The rest of the Israelites were hardened. Paul is not speaking of Edomites or Egyptians, but about the non-elect Israelites. Who hardened them? There are two answers: They hardened themselves, and God hardened them. In verses 8 through 10 we read that God gave them, not the Holy Spirit, but a spirit of stupor, a spirit of deep sleep, especially when the word of God is preached. God gave them eyes so that they may not see and ears so that they may not hear, even to the present time. This is the situation of most Jewish people today as well as those who have been brought up in Christian traditions yet refuse to believe the gospel. It is sad when children who are dedicated and baptized in a biblical church refuse to listen to the gospel and surrender to Christ. When we see this, we must eventually draw the conclusion that they may be reprobates. It is a divine judgment. God gave them eyes, but the god of this age has blinded their unbelieving minds "so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4). The natural man cannot understand spiritual things. They are foolishness to him. He has eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear. In Romans 11 Paul quotes several references to this idea from the Old Testament. In the law it is stated, "But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear" (Deut. 29:4). Prophet Isaiah says, "The LORD has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets); he has covered your heads (the seers)" (Isa. 29:10). In the writings it is said, "May the table set before them become a snare; may it become retribution and a trap. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever" (Ps. 69:22-23). The psalmist said, "Let their table become a snare." What does that mean? "Table" stands for spiritual and material blessings. "Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution. Let their eyes be full of darkness and their backs be bent over with grief forever." The reprobate tells the prophets and preachers and parents to get lost. But he is a fool. Psalm 69 is an imprecatory psalm-that is, it is a curse psalm, an anathema psalm. It is speaking about reprobation, petrification, cardio-sclerosis, total insensitivity to reality and truth. Reprobates have no understanding of who God is, what man is, what the world is, and what the devil is. Such people laugh at the idea of creation, fall, and redemption. They have no understanding of Jesus Christ, the Bible, the triune God and the moral law. God has made them fools who say there is no God. Such people are worshipers of Baal, the god who lets his worshipers do as they please. Anesthetized by the dope of worldliness, reprobates sleepwalk through life until they enter hell. The blessings of our table can become a curse. Look at the life of Solomon. Study the history of Israel during times of material prosperity. A full table does not always help us spiritually. The psalmist says in Psalm 119: "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word" (v. 67). In other words, before I was disobedient; now I am obedient. The psalmist also declares, "It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees" (v. 71). You don't want to listen to God? God has a way of dealing with you until you become all ears. "I know, O LORD, that your laws righteous, and in faithfulness [covenant love] you have afflicted me" (v. 75). It is not a full table but suffering that helps us spiritually, because suffering drives the elect to God. Elsewhere we read, "In their distress they called upon the Lord" (see Ps. 107). We don't like trouble, but thank God for using whatever means it takes to drive us to him. We read, "Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior" (Deut. 32:15). Prosperity can make us kick parents, kick pastors, and kick God. But don't worry; in due time, God will act. The children of those who were in Babylon were brought back to Israel by God's mercy and faithfulness. Soon they became so wicked they began to argue with God. But note God's response: "'If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name,' says the LORD Almighty, 'I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me'" (Mal. 2:2). A full table, therefore, is not always a blessing. It can cause us to rebel against God. But what does God say? Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay. Our God is a consuming fire. There is an antapodoma (a payback) for rebels. If people kick against God's moral law, if they are Baal worshipers, there is retribution coming, both in history and beyond history. How many people think of this when they do what they do? But we can count on it; there is a payback. What we sow, that we will reap. Suppose someone doesn't want to study when he is young. He will live in poverty, and people will look down on him. Suppose someone wants sexual liberation. He will incur disease and intolerable guilt that weighs him down throughout life and eternity. Suppose someone commits every sin he can think of. Such a person will live in depression. He may go to psychiatrists and psychologists who can offer him chemicals, but he will remain depressed. What about a person who remains in unbelief? It will take him to hell. But I want to give you some good news: God still saves sinners. I do not know who is elect and who is a reprobate. But one thing I know: God saves sinners. "Amazing grace-how sweet the sound!-that saved a wretch like me." If you repent and believe and surrender to Christ, that means you are not a reprobate sinner, but an elect sinner, loved by God from eternity and chosen to salvation. I beseech you in the mighty name of Jesus Christ, to repent and believe in Christ. Confess your sins to him, surrender to him, bow your knees to him, and pray to him. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
If you are not yet saved from God's wrath, repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ, the only Savior, now and forever. Jesus saves all who come to him and call upon his name.
If you are a saved Christian, make your calling and election sure, based on your present obedience, which alone is the evidence of your calling and election.
If you are sharing the gospel with others, don't be discouraged by the results. Pray and keep sharing the gospel. God will save the elect, few or many.
Know God by knowing his word, and you will not be depressed. Elijah was depressed because he did not know all the facts. But thank God, we have a book that tells us all about God. The truth was that Jezebel could not kill him; instead, she was killed by God. In fact, Elijah never died.
All people, even all in the church, will not be saved. So be a wise virgin with oil in the lamp. Don't presume that you are a Christian because you have been baptized or joined a church. Show proof that you are a Christian.
Don't say, "I am not be an elect," and leave it at that. No one knows who is elect. Know the gospel and call upon Christ.
Understand one thing: Sin never pays. We must pay for our sins: "For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees" (Lev. 26:43). Live carefully. Paul writes, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Gal. 6:7-10).
Friends, sow to the Holy Spirit. Be led by the Holy Spirit. As we read in Deuteronomy 6:18: "Do what is right and good in the sight of God, that it may go well with you." That is my prayer for each one of you and for your children and for your children's children.
1 To know how to tell whether you are saved or not, read my book, The Normal Church Life.
2 Theologians call this infralapsarianism.
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Copyright © 2011, P. G. Mathew
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