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'' My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous : and He is the propitiation for our sins ; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." — 1 John ii. 1, 2.
The Christian life is variously regarded by the New Testament writers as a walk, a race, a warfare, a passing through the fire, and a fellowship. These expressions suggest to us appropriate analogies between our natural life and the workings of our spiritual nature. What a man experiences in his struggle for life in the world, the soul experiences in its struggle for life in God. This experience, in its relation to God, is aptly described as a walk or fellowship with Him ; and, in its relation to our spiritual aims and difficulties, as a race, a warfare, a passing through the fire.
Now, although our spiritual life is all these and more, and although all these views of it may have been occasionally present to the minds of the New Testament writers, yet each of them has his own favourite view of it, to which he often returns. To Paul, for example, whose life was an intensely active one, and whose mind was of an argumentative cast, it is especially a race and a warfare. " So run, that ye may obtain," he says. " Forgetting
the things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark." " Fight the goodjight of faith ; lay hold on eternal life." And when, as the close of his earthly career drew nigh, he looked back upon the years he had spent in the service of his Lord and Saviour, he still regarded them as a time of warfare and pressing forward under difficulties, — "I have fought a goodjight, I have finished my cowrse, I have
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kept the faith." To Peter, again, who was of a fiery and impulsive nature, the spiritual life was a passing through the fire. It is he who writes, " that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ." " Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you." And, as if all outward nature were but a symbol of the believer's inner life, he reveals to us that the new heavens and the new earth will appear only after the old have passed through the fire. " Seeing, then, that these things shall be dissolved," he says, " what manner of persons ought ye to be, in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for, and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens,
being on fire, shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt tuith fervent heat." And now to John, the writer of this epistle, the spiritual life was, above all things, as it was to Enoch, a walk or fellowshvp with God. He it was, you remember, that leaned upon the bosom of our Lord as they reclined at the Last Supper ; and the idea of nearness to Christ, which this act suggests, was that which rose above all others in the mind of John, as he thought of the countless blessings of a Christian life. This is clearly shewn in the preceding chapter of this epistle : " That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us ; and truly our felloiuship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." To John, all believers were but one society or brotherhood, having fellowship one with another, through their common fellowship with a Heavenly Father and His Divine Son. They were one family, under one Father, admitted to everlasting communion with the Father through the one Mediator Jesus Christ. This fellowship, you will observe, is possessed by the believer here and now. " Truly our fellowship is with the Father ; " not shall he. Doubtless, it shall be enjoyed also in the new heavens and the new earth, but it begins now. No sooner do we rest upon Christ for our salvation than the Father begins to commune with us, and we with Him. This same truth is again taught us by John in his gospel : " He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life," hath it now, though not in that fulness which shall be enjoyed in a state of perfection hereafter. And this is everlasting life, to know, — to have an
intimate acquaintance, a close and near fellowship with, — " the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." This, in
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John's view, is the chiefest glory in a believer's life. Nothing can for a moment be compared with the joy of knowing that, even upon earth, the Father and Son are with us, revealing to us by degrees the blessedness of a sinless character and the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom, talking with us by the way as we journey on towards our everlasting home. This is what our spiritual life ought to be — a walk with God in light, where there is no suspicion, no misunderstanding, no distrust. And this it shall be in perfection hereafter. But alas ! it is not altogether this upon earth. There are occasional misunderstandings on our part ; for we sometimes think that the Father has forgotten to be gracious, and that His dealings with us in providence and grace are not actuated by love. And there are occasions when the Father does leave off communing with us, and retires within the veil into His holy habitation. As He says in Jer. xl. 47, " I have forsaken mine house, I have left mine heritage, I have given the dearly-beloved of my soul into the hand of her enemies."
I. The fact and presence of sin.
Now, whence come these misconceptions and hard thoughts on our part, and these withdrawals on the part of God ? Whence come these breaks in our fellowship ? From the presence of sin in the believer's soul. Sin is darkness, while God is light. And " what communion hath light with darkness ? " " God is light," says John, " and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth." While the sun is shining upon this side of the globe, we have light; but away on the other side it is niofht ; because the whole earth lies between it and the sun. And so, between the unregenerate man and God there lies the whole world of evil, with its depths of corruption and mountains of guilt ; accordingly he walks in darkness, and, except he be brought back to the light, darkness must be his everlasting portion. But even over him who has been brought back and may, in general terms, be said to walk in the light, there hangs an occasional gloom. Why is this ? Not that God the Light has lost His power, but because sin has risen like smoke, or the vapour which forms the clouds, and dimmed to his eye the lustre of the Divine glory. It is sin in the believer's heart which produces mistrust and disagreement, and, since " two cannot walk together except they be agreed," his walk or fellowship with God is, for the time, clouded or broken off. The apostle, knowing
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this, yet earnestly desiring that men should enjoy this fellowship — not occasionally, but at all times — exhorts us, with all the earnestness and tenderness of his aifectionate nature, to be free from this cause of alienation from God. "My little children, these things " — viz., that God is light, and sin is darkness, and that they who live in sin cannot have fellowship with God, — these things " I write unto you so that ye may not sin."
Consider for a little the true nature of the apostolic exhortation, " that ye sin not." The command is, not that we be as little as possible defiled with sin, but that we be absolutely and entirely undefiled. You must not imagine. Christian believer, that, because you are one with Christ by faith and God regards you in love for the Son's sake. He will not be offended by your transgression. With all the greatness of His love for you. He retains His infinite hatred towards your sin ; for He cannot look upon sin, — any sin, whether it defile His friend or enemy. His love for you cannot make Him blind to your faults, or regardless of their pollution. Our fellowship with God does not influence His holy nature as the fellowship of men often influences us. The latter makes us blind to their faults. It wears away the pain we may have felt at first when we heard their profanity, their unchaste conversation, or their words of pride, envy, or bitterness. But our fellowship
with God has no such Jtendency or influence upon Him. It cannot lessen in any degree the grief for sin, or anger against it, which He felt at first when the rebel angels were driven from His presence. Even if we should think of the closeness of the relationship subsisting between God and us, — a family relationship, in which God is the Father and we His children, — we must be careful to remember, that, on this point, there is a wide difference between the household of faith, and an earthly household. In the latter, a son or daughter may commit a fault without causing grief or anger in the parents' minds, either because they are ignorant of the fault, or because, being sinful and weak of themselves, they lightly regard the fault committed. But it is not so in the household of faith. Every transgression and disobedience is known to the Father ; and because He knows, not only the act, but also the eternally ruinous effect of it, He will not, — nay, He cannot, — lightly regard it, or pass it by with easy indifference. He folds arovmd Him His garment of light ; and as, when the sun rises, darkness flies away, so when God appears, the soul that is defiled with sin seeks to flee from His presence. One sin is sufficient to effect this. It required but one sin to break Adam's
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fellowship with God. After one sin, he could not look upon God,
— he hid himself from His presence among the trees of the garden ; and, on the other hand, God could not look with favour upon the sinner ; " He drove out the man." Every thick cloud that comes between us and the sun has a twofold effect ; it both hides the sun's face from us, and darkens and cools the ground. So every act of sin both deprives us of the light of God's countenance and casts a gloom and chill over our whole spiritual nature. Hence, the apostle commands us to be clean, spotlessly pure, to have nothing and do nothing that will break the continuity of His fellowship with us. " These things I write unto you, that ye sin not"
Now, the sins which believers commit against God may be divided into these two great classes : — (1.) Sins of ignorance and weakness. Paul was thinking of these when he wrote to the Roman converts, — " The good that I would, I do not ; but the evil which I would not, that I do." For those who may feel oppressed with this sense of shortcoming, we shall find a word of comfort and guidance as we proceed. At present, I invite your attention, for a moment, to the second class of sins. (2.) Sins of presumption, offences committed with a high hand, in face of the teaching of God's Word and the promptings of His Holy Spirit. The teaching of Scripture with regard to this subject is fitted to strike us with fear and trembling. For, the law laid down in Numb. xv. 30, 31, runs thus : " The soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land or a stranger, the same reproacheth the
Lord ; and that soul shall be cut off from among His people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken His commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him." The law of Old Testament sacrifice provided no atonement for wilful or presumptuous sin, but commanded the sinner to be cut off. And in the New Testament we have very much the same law ; for, in Hebrews x. 26, the apostle writes, " If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." Now, it is quite true that this passage in Hebrews refers more to the habit of sinning wilfully, than to one or several acts of wilful transgression. And it is quite true that even Abraham was guilty of wilful sin, when he represented to Pharaoh that Sarah was his sister ; that David was guilty of wilful sin when he planned the death of Uriah ; that Jonah was
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guilty of wilful sin, when he fled from the presence of the Lord instead of obeying His command, " Arise, go to Nineveh ;" that Peter was guilty of wilful sin, when he denied his Lord, saying, " I know not the man." All this is undoubtedly true ; and because their sins were pardoned, and they were restored to God's favour,
the believer who feels that he has wilfully sinned against light, is saved from utter despair. But we ask, Is there not great reason for the avoidance of even one wilful sin, when we think of the trials and tears, and heart-broken cries that followed their wilful transgression ; and how, even after their restoration, they seem not to have enjoyed that untroubled peace which comes through unclouded faith in God ? And further. Is there not much cause for serious alarm, seeing that acts of wilful sin soon develope the habit of wilful sinning, which is nothing short of apostacy from the faith as it is in Christ ? Examine yourselves, therefore, believers. See that there be no secret cherishing of sin in the life, no wilful breaking of the Divine law in business, no obstinate, implacable hatred against friend or enemy. Forgive as you hope to be forgiven. Let profits go, if they can come only by falsehood and dishonesty. Cut off the right hand, pluck out the right eye, part with all that is dearest, if these stand between you and the crown of righteousness. For the Holy Spirit, speaking through the apostle, says, " These things I write unto you, that ye sin not." He who in presumption rushes into sin, merely because he knows there is an Advocate with the Father, is like a man who throws himself into the sea because he knows there is one on the bank able to save him. He is like one who carries a naked light into a powder-magazine, or a carelessly covered light into a pit full of fire-damp. There is but a step between him and death ! and he knows not how soon the step may be taken which shall eternally separate between his
soul and its life. Let our prayer, then, in all honesty and seriousness, be, " Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins : let them not have dominion over me."
XL The lorovision for sin : an Advocate.
Now we shall look at the provision made for the removal of sin — a provision we all require ; for, even if we should be innocent of wilful transgressions, we are at least guilty of sins of ignorance and weakness. " If I justify myself," says Job, " mine own mouth shall condemn me. If I say, I am perfect," as some now-a-days do, " it shall also prove me perverse." My very claim
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to perfection would establish the perverseness of my heart and life. And John, in the preceding chapter, writes, " If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." What hope, then, remains for us that our fellowship with the Father and Son shall be continuous, or, if broken, be renewed ? Since every act of sin breaks that fellowship, as every fault in an electric wire stops the current, and since conscience brings home to us, not one, but a multitude of transgressions, how can we expect the current between us and God continually to flow, bring-
ing into our empty souls the fulness of His grace, and carrying back to His throne the praise and thanksgiving of hearts enriched by Himself ? The apostle answers, " We have an Advocate with the Father."
I invite your attention to the expression here used ; for it is one we do not meet with in the ordinary language of the world. We hear of men being advocates with a judge, or intercessors with a father ; but nowhere except in this passage do we find the expression, " an advocate with the Father." The explanation of this strange phrase we take to be this: John is manifestly addressing believers, for it is only to them that God would say, " My little children." This is also shown by the words, " If any man sin ; " for in the more full and exact form, this should read, " If any man have committed an act of sin." The apostle is addressing, not those who live in sin and walk in darkness, but those who walk in light and have fellowship with God, whose walk and fellowship, however, may have been broken through some act of sin. It is to believers, therefore, that John is writing. And since all believers, at conversion, enter into a family relationship with God, and since that is the highest and closest in which we can stand towards Him, the apostle wishes believers to remember that, notwithstanding their sin, God still remains their Father. He is their Creator, and Judge, and King, as well as Father ; but Father implies the nearest and dearest relationship, a relationship which unbelievers cannot
claim, and one which believers do not lose, even when they commit some act of sin. And therefore, for the comfort of believers who may be mourning over their infirmity and shortcoming, and doubting whether there can be a restoration to peace with Him who had cleansed their garments which they have sullied again, the apostle reminds them that the filial relationship is not lost by their coming short of God's glory through the weakness of the flesh. And so he writes, not " an advocate with
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the Judge," which would be quite correct, but " an advocate with the Father."
But, next, why an advocate, and not an intercessor ? Because the apostle is dealing, not merely with the sonship of believers, but with that sonship as affected by sin. And sin is a violation of God's holy law ; a violation of the law of that kingdom in which the Father is Lawgiver and Judge. The Father is Judge. When the believer, therefore, yields to temptation and breaks the law of the heavenly kingdom, God, notwithstanding that He still remains his Father, appears also as his Judge, and calls him, for his sin, to the bar. And when a criminal is brought to the bar in a court of justice, what he
wants is, not an intercessor, but an advocate. If a believer were in all things obedient to the Divine will, as the angels in heaven are, it might suffice him to have an intercessor with the Father, who should daily procure for him the blessings of the everlasting covenant; but this will not suffice a believer who has proved disobedient to the Divine law. He requires an advocate. And hence, John writes, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father." We draw your attention to this ; for if it was the fault of the theology of a former age, to represent God only as a Judge, and to maintain Divine justice at the expense pf Divine love, it is becoming no less the fault of the theology of this age to represent Him only as a Father, and maintain the Divine love at the expense of Divine justice. Not only Deists or Unitarians, but even some of God's children, seem to imagine that, since God is the Father, and His name is Love, He will pass by their sin as an indulgent parent disregards the waywardness of a favourite child. Now, it is quite true that God is ready to forgive — let His name be ever honoured and adored for the blessed truth — still. He is ready to forgive, not as an indulgent father, nor as a lax judge, but only through the irresistible might and right of Christ's advocacy. There is no force in the argument that, because God is love and man is morally weak. He will mercifully overlook our sins. "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly sinner appear ? " If even believers, who, through Christ and the spirit of adoption can say, * Abba, Father,' require for their
salvation the power of Christ's advocacy, how shall it be with them to whom God is not Father, but only Judge and King, and who reject the effectual advocacy of His dear Son ? Every sin calls for judgment. It is an offence against the righteous law of
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God, which must be vindicated. He who commits the sin is made, sooner or later, to discover that he requires one holding the position of an advocate to plead for him at the judgment-bar. God is the Judge of all, as He is also the Father of believers. And therefore, if any believer have committed an act of sin, it becomes him to find his refuge in this grand truth, " We have an advocate with the Father."
III. The believers' advocate Jesus Christ the righteous.
This advocate, observe, is not the sinner himself. It is a common remark about law-courts, that " he who appears as his own advocate has a fool for his client." If this be true in an earthly court of justice, it is no less true in the court of heaven. For he who is arraigned at God's bar is altogether unfit to plead his own case. Let us here consider, first, the fitness or unfitness of the unbeliever for this work. (1) He is ignorant of God's law.
The wicked say unto God, " Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways." (2) He is ignorant of his own sin. " Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered, or athirst, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee ?" (3) He is ignorant of the ruin which sin works. " He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved, for I shall never be in adversity." And (4) he is ignorant of the holiness and justice of God. " Thou though test that I was altogether such an one as thyself." It is manifest that the unbeliever is altogether unfit to be his own advocate, and yet this is the office which those who reject Christ try to fill for themselves. It need not surprise us, therefore, if, when sentence is executed against them and they share the doom of the fallen angels, from the abyss of hell they should impugn the wisdom, goodness, and grace of God. " Nay father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent."
But the question may now perhaps be asked, 'Does the believer really require an advocate ? He is not entirely ignorant of God's law and his own sin ; he feels, in some degree, the misery which sin entails ; and he acknowledges that " God is Light," as much as " He is Love," Does he, then, require an advocate, seeing he knows all this ? ' Yes, and just because he knows all this. For he feels that his knowledge of God's nature, and God's law, and his own sin, is very imperfect, and that his statement of them must partake of its imperfection. But, what is more to the point, his knowledge of these, however imperfect it may be, is yet suffi-
cient to show him the utter hopelessness of his case. " He putteth
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his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope." He prays for a daysman who may put his hand upon Judge and sinner, and the Father Himself has provided One. " We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
Now, when I consider the character and work of this Advocate, I feel it will be wise for me, not to act as the Unitarian and try to plead my own case, but to leave my case entirely in His hands. And, in approaching Jesus Christ, I do not feel, with the Romanist, any need for the intercession of the Virgin, the prayers of glorified saints, or the intervention of a human priesthood. They who, in the least degree, rely on these, cast a sinful reflection, a dark shadow, over the advocacy of Christ. W hy should I require the intercession of the Virgin ? Is her love for the sinner greater than Christ's love ? Is she more long-suflering, or more easy-to-be-entreated ? Are there any misconceptions in the mind of Christ which she can remove ? Perish the thought. Christ knows us, as God the Father knows us ; Christ loves us with a love that is infinite and everlasting. And who can be more easyto-be-entreated than He who gives this gracious invitation, " Come
unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest ? " We say, further, that when Christ appears before the Father on behalf of a believer who has sinned, it is not as an intercessor, — at least, such an intercessor as Mary and the saints are represented by the Romish Church. Christ must not be thought of as loving us more than the Father loves us, as more longsufFering, more easy-to-be-entreated, showing us more sympathy, or knowing better the weakness of our nature. In these, as in their power and glory, the Father and Son are equal. The Father loves us as dearly as the Son. " God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son." This was the love which the Father bore to us, one that is only equalled by the Son's, who gave Himself. And, on the other hand, Christ hates sin, even as the Father hates it. It is He who shall say, " Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." Hence, we repeat, when Christ appears before the Judge and Father for a believer who has sinned, it is not with any weak form of intercession, but as our Advocate at God's bar of judgment.
To that bar throng the witnesses against us. The accuser of the brethren is there, with his train of malignant spirits. Conscience is also there. The accusation is supported, possibly by the evidence of our fellow-men, certainly by the law of God and books of remembrance written in heaven. And when hell, earth,
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and heaven have all testified against us, the Advocate begins to plead.
Does He deny the evidence, or try to tone down its effect ? Does He represent the sin as a small one, unworthy to be brought before God ? Does He allege that the law is too strict, or the penalty greater than the offence warrants ? Does He plead the previous good character of the accused, shewing how often or how long he has observed the law ? Does He attribute the sin to the force of circumstances, the strength of the temptation, or the weakness of our moral nature ? No. These are the pleasin-law which sinners urge who appear as their own advocates before God. But our advocate is Jesus Christ the rigldeous. And because He is righteous, — a righteous Advocate in heaven as He was a righteous Man on earth, — He will neither extenuate our sin, nor seek excuses for it in our circumstances or weak moral nature ; nor will He charge the law or character of the Father with undue severity. He admits the sin ; He approves of the law ; he acknowledges the justice of the penalty ; and yet, strange to say. He obtains for the accused a discharge from the bar. And why ? Because He is the propitiation for our sin.
It is this which crowns the fitness of Christ for being the be-
liever's Advocate. It is not His righteousness alone that fits Him. The unfallen angels are righteous, yet their advocacy would be of no avail. It is not because he came to earth, and gave us a revelation of, or from the Father. The angels, Moses, and the prophets have favoured us with a revelation, given under the Holy Spirit's influence. It is not because He gave us an example, that we should follow in His steps ; nor because He was self-denying, even to death upon a cross. In these points, Jesus Christ would only stand higher than, but not outside the ranks of, mere men. No, it is because He is the propitiation for our sin — the sin-offering provided by God and approved of God — the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. Unless Christ be the sin-offering, bearing away, in His body upon the tree, my sin, — suffering there, in my room and stead, the punishment incurred by my sin ; — then, I say, — and this with the most profound reverence, — that all the suffering He endured in life, and all the agony of His cross in death, will not fit him for being an Advocate whose work shall bring rest and peace to my guilty soul. For — and here we sum up the course of our argument — I have sinned. Sin brings me to God's judgment-bar. There I require an advocate ; one who can plead that the penalty
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has been paid. Otherwise, the law must take its course, and I become an eternal outcast from the presence of God. But blessed be God who redeemeth our life from destruction ; He has provided for us an Advocate whom He always hears, because that Advocate is righteous and also the propitiation — priest, altar, and sacrifice — for our sin. If then, burdened with sin and guilt, we are at any time ready to halt, and almost ready to despair, let us think of Jesus Christ as our Advocate with the Judo-c and Father, — the same who, on Calvary, laid down his life for us. Thus shall we be able, with another apostle, to raise the note of triumph : " Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect ? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth ? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us."
Now we must close. We have dealt with the passage as referring exclusively to believers. Thus, we believe, the apostle intended we should deal with it. Is there, then, no word here for unbelievers, for those who may be out of Christ, but are anxious to be found in Him, not having their own righteousness, but that which is of God, through faith ? Yes, in the words that follow — " Not for ours only, but also for the whole world." We do not understand this clause as touching upon the debated question, ' Whether Christ pleads for all, or only for some,' at least, we do not mean at present to deal with that point. We call upon the unregenerate not to perplex themselves with that ques-
tion ; it is one with which they have nothing to do, so long as they are outside the kingdom. What they should now consider is, that, if they are willing to be God's children, and desirous to be free from sin's curse and power, their way is open to them. The Advocate who pleads for an oftending believer is also ready to plead for an anxious sinner. And for the latter, as for the former, there is no other Advocate. There is but " one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." " There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." Let the anxious inquirer after salvation, then, meditate on this last clause : Christ is the propitiation for their sins, as well as for the sins of believers who have erred. The Advocate who pleads for believers so effectually that they are kept within the kingdom, is also ready to plead for the anxious sinner, that he may be admitted into the kingdom. That you may believe this, and trust to it, and act as those who in truth so believe and trust, is the prayer of the Church on your behalf. Amen.
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