Why Are We Here?

Why Are We Here?

Why Are We Here?

Many struggle to get a satisfactory answer to such a simple question. Some have concluded that there is no such final answer and the meaning we seek cannot be found. If the ultimate reality is only matter shaped by random blind chance then seeking meaning is a pointless exercise. But an infinite personal God guarantees meaning and a satisfactory answer to this question.

Hugh Binning taught philosophy at Glasgow University as well as being a minister. He was therefore well-qualified to answer this question. The following is an updated extract from one of his lectures. It focuses on the first question of the Shorter Catechism “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever”. This is a simple but very profound answer to the question “Why are we here?”


1. What Is Most Important for Us to Know?

All that we are required to know may be summarised under these two headings: (a) our purpose and (b) how we must attain that purpose. All we are required to do is to achieve that purpose by any means.

This is the first priority in all arts and every business and is especially necessary in Christianity too. It is the first cause of all human actions and the first principle of all deliberate activity. Unless you are going to walk randomly – not knowing where you are going or what you are doing – you must first establish and fix your intention. “What is the great purpose for which I have been created and sent into the world?” If you do not ask this and settle it aright, you will do nothing or else nothing purposefully or that which is even worse, you will do that which will undo you. Establishing this one thing in the wrong way certainly makes most of our activities either completely unprofitable or destructive and harmful.

Since this point has first place in the catechism, it ought to be laid to heart first of all and pondered as the one thing necessary. “One thing is needful”  says Christ, (Luke 10:42). If any thing is most necessary of all this is it. O that you would consider it according to its necessity and weight!


2. What Is Our Chief Purpose?

There are two Scripture verses which deal with the ultimate and chief purpose of man, which is glorifying God by all our actions, words and thoughts (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 10:31). In these we have the following important matters:

  • God’s glory is the purpose of our being.
  • God’s glory should be the purpose of our doing.
  • The basis for both of these. Since both being and doing are from God, they ought therefore to be both for him. He is the first cause of both and therefore he ought to be the ultimate purpose of both. “Of him, and through him…are all things”. All things are for Him and therefore all things should be done to Him.


3. Why is God our Ultimate Purpose?

God is altogether independent and self-sufficient. This is His royal prerogative in which He infinitely transcends all created perfection. He is of Himself and for Himself. He is from no other and for no other: “of him, and for him…are all things” (Romans 11:36).

He is the fountain-source. You ought to follow the streams up to this and then rest because you can go no further. Even the most perfect creature is limited and imperfect: it is from another and for another. Its source is in the fountain of God’s immense power and goodness and it must run towards that again until it empties all its faculties and excellencies into that same sea of goodness.

Dependence is essential to a created being — dependence on that infinite, independent Being for their first cause and ultimate purpose. This principle is engraved in the very nature of man. It is as certain and evident that man is made for God’s glory and for no other purpose as that he is from God’s power and no other cause. “That which may be known” of man’s chief purpose, “is manifest in them”‘ so that all are “without excuse”. It is evident unless men violate their own conscience and put out their own eye as the Gentiles in Romans 1:19.

God’s being is independent – there is no more suitable name than the one He gives Himself, “I am that I am”. This implies a boundless, ineffable, absolute and transcendent being. It is the glorious perfection of His nature that He does “all things for himself” (Proverbs 16:4). He does them for His own name and His glory is as dear to Him as Himself. “I am the Lord, that is my name, and [therefore] my glory will I not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8 and 48:11).


4. Why is Our Ultimate Purpose Not in Ourselves?

For a man to seek his own glory or search into it “is not glory” (Proverbs 25.27) but rather a man’s shame. Self-seeking in creatures is an unnatural thing. It is as absurd and unfit for a creature to seek its own glory, as to attribute its own being to its own agency. Will the thing formed say to the potter that he has not made it? That would be ridiculous. Will the thing formed say that it is made for itself? That would be equally ridiculous. Self-denial is the beauty of a creature and therefore humility is an ornament and clothing (1 Peter 5:5). Honour upholds the humble spirit (Proverbs 29:23).


5. Why is it Not Wrong for God to Seek His Own Glory?

But God’s self-seeking and seeking His own glory is His eminent excellence. It is indeed His glory because He is and there is none else. There is nothing besides Him except that which has issued from His incomprehensible fullness. There is thefore all the reason in the world that as He is the beginning so He should be the end of all things (Revelation 1:8). Seeking His own glory is not prejudicial to the creature’s good but in glorifying Himself, He is most beneficial to His own creatures.

Ambition in man robs and spoils  what is excellent in others for itself  and then boasts itself in these borrowed feathers! But our blessed Lord is doing most for our benefit when He does all for His own glory. He does not need to go outside of Himself to seek perfection but manifests what He is in Himself  and communicates from Himself to us. O blessed self-seeking that gave us a being and wellbeing; that gains no advantage by it but gives advantage! He has the honour of all but we have the benefit of all.

God has made all things for Himself and especially man for His own glory to display the glory and excellence of His power, goodness, holiness, justice, and mercy in Him. It is not only most reasonable therefore that man should do all things to the glory of God but it is his beauty and perfection. This is the greatest possible accession to his existence—to glorify God by that existence. We are not our own, therefore we ought not to live to ourselves but to God to whom we belong.


6. What is it to Glorify God?

Is it any advantage to the Almighty that we are righteous? No indeed! Here is the vast difference between God’s glorifying and sanctifying us, and our glorifying and sanctifying Him. God’s glorifying is creative — ours only declarative. He makes us such, we do no more but declare Him to be such. This then is the work that man was created for, to be a witness of God’s glory and give testimony to its manifestation in God’s ways of power, justice, mercy and truth.

To glorify God is to conceive of Him and meditate on His name in our souls until they receive the impression of His glorious name. We are then to express this in our words and actions, commending Him and obeying Him. Our souls should be like wax bearing the seal of His glorious attributes of justice, power, goodness, holiness, and mercy. As water reflects the beams of the sun back again, so our spirits should receive the sweet, warming beams of His love and glorious excellency and then reflect them towards His Majesty, with the desires and affections of our souls. All our thoughts of Him and all our affections towards Him should declare there is none like Him or besides Him.

A soul will glorify God when love so unites it to God and makes it one spirit with Him. His glory becomes our honour and becomes the principle of all our inward affections and outward actions. It is not always possible to have express particular thoughts of God and His glory in every action and meditation. For the most part, however, it ought to be so.

If souls were accustomed to meditating on God it would become their very nature  and be delightful. Even though we may not always have an express intention towards God’s glory we ought always to maintain a spirit that may be construed to proceed from intending God’s glory.


7. How does Redemption Restore our Ultimate Purpose?

“All men have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That glory is the reason for man being in the world and he has come short of it. O strange shortcoming! Short of all that he was ordained for!  But behold! the goodness of the Lord and his kindness and love has “appeared toward man. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” “through Jesus Christ” (Titus 3:4-6). Our Lord Jesus, by whom and for whom all things were created  would not let this excellent workmanship perish and He therefore goes about the work of redemption.

This is a second creation with greater labour and glory than the first. This is the purpose of His second creation, as it was of the first: “We are his workmanship created to good works in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:10).  He has made us again and paid a price for us and so we are twice bound not to be our own but His, and so to glorify him in our bodies and spirits (1 Corinthians 6:20).  We once came short of our goal —God’s glory and our happiness; but it is attainable again. We lost both but both are found in Christ. Awake then and stir up your spirits, otherwise it will be double condemnation (when we have the offer of being restored our former blessed condition) to love our present misery better.


8. When Will We Begin to Ask This Question?

Ask yourself “Why am I here? Why have I come into the world?” If you do not ask this what will you answer when God asks you when you appear before his judgement seat? You have been sent into the world only for this business to serve the Lord. If you answer truthfully  (as you will have to —you cannot lie then) you must say, “Lord, I spent my time in serving my own lusts. I was taken up with other business etc”. Imagine if an ambassador reported to his government on his negotiations: “I was busy at cards and dice. I spent my money and wore my clothes”. Though you think your ploughing and borrowing and trading and reaping very necessary, yet certainly these are but as trifles and toys compared to the main business.

O what a dreadful account will souls give! They come here for no purpose but to serve their bodies and senses, to be slaves to all the creatures which were once put under man’s feet. Now man is under the feet of all and he has put himself under them.  You seek these created things as if you were created for them and not they for you. You seek yourselves as if you came from yourselves and not from God. You were not made for that purpose nor yet redeemed either to serve yourselves or other creatures but that other creatures might serve you and you might serve God (Luke 1:74-75). And this is really the best way to serve ourselves and to save ourselves—to serve God. Self-seeking is self-destroying; self-denying is self-saving, soul-saving. He that seeks to save his life shall lose it, and he that loses his life shall find it, and he that denies himself and follows Christ, is His disciple (Luke 9:23-24).

When will you sit down and be truly earnest about this business? ‘It is lamentable only to begin to learn to live when you must die! You will be  almost out of the world before you ask “Why did I come into the world?” This is the most lamentable thing of all —many souls end their life before they begin to live. For what is our life but a living death as long as we do not live to God, and do not live in relation to the great end of our life and being,—the glory of God? It would be better, says Christ, that such “had never been born”.  It concerns you who are created again in Jesus Christ most of all to ask, “Why have I been made? And why am I redeemed? For what purpose?” It is certainly so that you may glorify your heavenly Father, (Matthew 5:16; Psalm 56:13). And you will glorify Him if you bring forth much fruit, and continue in His love, (John 15:8-9). Therefore abide in Him by faith that you may honour Him and bring forth fruit (John 5:23; 15:4).

Here is the summary of how to glorify God. Receive salvation from Him freely, righteousness and eternal life. This is placing your seal of approval on God’s truth and grace and mercy. Whoever counts the Son worthy to be a Saviour to them and places their seal of approval on Him whom God the Father has sent and sealed also honours the Father. He that honours the Father will be honoured “for them that honour me I will honour” (1 Samuel 2:30) says the Lord. “He that serves me, him will my Father honour” (John 12:26).

God is the delight of such a soul and such a soul is God’s delight. That soul sets God in a high place, in a throne in its heart. God sets that soul in a heavenly place with Christ (Ephesians 2:6). He comes down to sit with us and dwells in us from off His throne of majesty (Isaiah 66:1-2 and 57:15).


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The Best Way to Make Mature Disciples

The Best Way to Make Mature Disciples

The Best Way to Make Mature Disciples

Currently, “discipleship” is one of those buzz words that evangelicals have begun to use all the time, everywhere. It is only a belated reaction against the modern trend to separate “mission” and “evangelism” from “discipleship”.  Some have realised that simply being “missional” (another buzz word) is not enough. Predictably, this has prompted various attempts at discipleship manuals and courses. Historically, the Church has always been engaged in making disciples. It has also been clear about the best way to engage in this.

It was well defined by Christ in His Commission to the Apostles. Making disciples involves teaching them to observe “all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).  Those who are Christ’s disciples learn from Him (Matthew 11:29) and continue in His Word (John 8:31).  Their life must also be governed by His commandments (Matthew 10:25; John 15:8).  There are things to be believed and things to be done.


1. The Best Means to Make Mature Disciples

Faith and Obedience are the main themes and structure of the Westminster Catechisms. They also teach these things comprehensively, in the way that Christ commanded. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, we have tools to hand (though largely forgotten) for making mature disciples.  Historically, the Church has used the tool of catechising (in a personal and flexible context) to make mature disciples.

We do not need bullet point crash courses but documents that are so rich and full that they will be lifelong guides to the truth. They will be keys to unlock greater amounts of what we need to believe and obey. The Westminster Catechisms are suitable for groups and individuals at different levels of maturity. Indeed, people can progress from the Shorter to the Larger Catechism.

Many make the mistake of thinking that discipleship involves teaching others to know and assent to biblical doctrines. Yet truths must also be believed and experienced in a practical sense. Discipleship also requires knowing the things to be obeyed and doing them.  This is what the Great Commission requires.

As David Dickson comments on Matthew 28:20: “Christ’s baptised disciples may not live as they wish. They must make sure to observe everything that Christ has commanded His ministers to teach them” (see free e-book at the bottom of this post).  The Larger Catechism particularly provides a full biblical exposition of the obedience that God requires. As well as applying God’s law, it gives rules to show how the law should be interpreted and applied for living.

David Dickson also provides useful comments on Hebrews 6:1.  He notes that there are two parts to Christian instruction.

Firstly to instruct in the key principles of religion, secondly, to bring this instruction to maturity or perfection. The principles must first be learned, and the foundation laid.  When people have learned the principles, their teachers must advance them further, towards maturity or perfection


2. The Most Accurate Means for Making Mature Disciples

Complete, accurate summaries: Givens B. Strickler  wrote of complete and comprehensive character of the Westminster Catechisms in an essay called “The Nature, Value and Special Utility of the Catechisms”. The answers of the Catechisms stand on their own as comprehensive definitions of the subjects they cover.

They are complete manuals of the great fundamental doctrines of divine revelation…the most complete in existence…they contain them in the most accurate form.

They also form a complete system with every doctrine in its right place and in its right relations to other doctrines. This is true of no other catechism.  Doctrines are seen in the light of all correlated truths; and thus can be so seen as to be most thoroughly understood and most fully appreciated.

Careful, accurate summaries: As Strickler notes, there is a balance in the way that the Catechisms state the truths of Scripture. They make sure that unbiblical error is rejected.

while expressing them clearly in a positive form, they, at the same time, negatively, at every important point, guard against the most serious errors.


3. The Most Focussed Means for Making Mature Disciples

The Catechisms focus clearly and comprehensively on the subject that needs to be taught. Their answers provide the basis for further questions to explore  the various aspects of the truth stated. This is more focussed than mentioning subjects in passing during a sermon when less direct and sustained attention is given to them.

When Catechisms are used effectively, teaching can also be even more direct, personal and penetrating. Richard Baxter commends catechising as a help to preaching. He realised in his own experience that “some ignorant persons, who had been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse of conscience in half an hour’s close disclosure, than they did from ten years’ public preaching”.

The Larger Catechism increases this focus and widens the subjects covered with accuracy. This is vital in encouraging deeper maturity in Christ’s disciples. As is often noted, the Larger Catechism covers the nature of the Church in greater detail. This is significant for making mature disciples. They are discipled within the context of the Church and the Great Commission emphasises the means of grace – the Word and the Sacraments – as part of this.


4. The Most Urgent Means for Making Mature Disciples

Making mature disciples will not succeed as it should until such means are taken seriously. We need to restore thorough and accurate instruction using the Catechisms to its rightful place. We will not obey the Great Commission properly, unless we give attention to this. John Calvin went so far as to say:

the Church of God shall never be conserved without catechism, for it is as the seed to be kept that the good grain perish not but that it may increase from age to age.

Children need to be catechised and to progress from the Shorter to the Larger Catechism. For adults, the practice of memorisation and public repetition of the answers associated with catechising in the past may not be so easy to achieve now. Yet these documents, together with the Westminster Confession, form an excellent basis for group study and discussion.

The documents can be used in a flexible and natural way to teach the truth. Over a century ago, Givens B. Strickler asked the question as to why ministers and others could not use the Catechisms to instruct in biblical truth so that:

in every church there shall be a number, at least, who shall know how to maintain them against any of the popular assaults that are so frequently made upon them? We shall never succeed as we may and ought until this is done.

“Missional” trends will rise and fall, methods will come and go unless the means for mature discipling are adopted. Evangelical churches will continue with the epidemic of biblical and theological illiteracy and disobedience to Christ’s commands. They will only do so by ignoring the preventive medicine to hand in these catechisms. It is high time for all of us to absorb more fully the biblical teaching of the Westminster Catechisms.

An earlier post about Catechising: How Well Do You Know the Truth?

For further reading about the benefits of Catechising read John J. Murray’s “Catechising: A Forgotten Practice“.

The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary by J. G. Vos is a helpful and very full modern guide to a neglected treasure.

Great Commission


What is Christ’s mission for the Church? How should the Church fulfill it? This free e-Book draws from David Dickson’s comments on Matthew 28:18-20, to answer key questions about Christ’s commission to the Church. Dickson brings out the plain meaning and implications of these verses.


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How Well Do You Know the Truth?

How Well Do You Know the Truth?

How Well Do You Know the Truth?

The sum of human knowledge is increasing exponentially, it is said. This is the total amount of knowledge produced and known in the world. Before World War I the sum of human knowledge doubled every 100 to 200 years. After World War II the sum of human knowledge doubled every 25 years. Currently, it is doubling every year. By 2020, the sum of human knowledge is said to be doubling every month. We may know many things, but do we know the right things? More than this, how well do we know the right things? This is our own and our children’s greatest need.

The Church has always used a well-worn method to address this need. It is called catechising. As William Bridge put it, catechising has two goals. Firstly, to increase knowledge. Secondly, to test it.  We must “continue in the faith grounded and settled” (Colossians 1:23). In a sermon on this verse, Thomas Watson shows that catechising is the best method for ensuring that we are grounded and settled in the faith.

Catechising is the most important things taught in the most memorable way. A catechism is not just a document or statement. It is living and kept in the memory rather than just on paper. This makes it invaluable for future reference. Truth is ready, on the tip of the tongue (1 Peter 3:15).

The word catechise is a Greek word for teaching used in Galatians 6:6 and elsewhere. It is vital that children, in particular, come to learn and remember Bible truth (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). We teach them so “that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Psalm 78:4-7).

The Church has proved the effectiveness of catechising. John Owen observed this. “More knowledge is ordinarily diffused, especially among the young and ignorant, by one hour’s catechetical exercise, than by many hours’ continued discourse.” Thomas Watson believed that: “To preach and not to catechise is to build without a foundation”.


Counter-cultural Teaching

Recent generations have neglected it, however. It runs against the grain of modern thinking. We expect to have a digital slave to retain knowledge for us. This may be useful in many contexts, but truth is different. As the Saviour taught, the most important truths are meant to “sink down” into our ears (Luke 9:44). They are meant to take hold of our hearts and the way that we think.

Memorisation is different to merely remembering. To memorise the truth is to engage with it actively.  It also requires focus and attention, things that run contrary to a distracted, hyper-stimulated age.  In a culture that values emotive self-expression, rote learning seems rigid and repressive. Yet this ignores the need for foundations and first principles. Any sphere of learning or skilled activity requires this.


Long-term Teaching

Memorisation retains knowledge as a necessary preparation for explanation and comprehension. As John Macleod observes, the Reformation approach:

aimed at the opening up of the form of sound words in which they set forth the truth of the Gospel.  And when what was committed to memory was opened up by loving teachers at the fireside or in the congregation, the good of having learned the letter of such statements, which were a valuable exhibition of the Faith, came out.

And, what was more, those who, in the immature years of childhood, had their minds stored with what at the time when they learned to repeat it might be beyond their reach had, in later years, when their powers came to a measure of ripeness, the chance of working in their mind what they once had learned only by rote.  They carried with them from childhood a treasure the good of which they had been long familiar.

Often have those who have gone through a course in catechistic training in their early days come to discover how useful this teaching is to them now that in later days they have come to feel the power of the truth.  They are like a mill with all its mechanism in order that waited for the turning on of the water that it might work.  Once the power is brought to bear upon them they learn to their profit the connections in which the various portions of divine truth stand to one another. And thus they start their new life of discipleship with valuable assets to their credit.  When bread is thus cast upon the waters it may be found when most needed – in after days.  There is this over and above the blessing that often attends at the time the opening up and explanation of these statements to the mind of the child.  For those who teach a Catechism are expected to open up its teaching and explain its meaning (Scottish Theology, pp.101-102).


Christ-like Teaching

David Dickson shows the importance of catechising from the example of Christ teaching His disciples. In Matthew 13:51 Christ asks them if they have “understood all these things”.

Christ takes account of whether His disciples understood His teachings.

1. Those who hear the gospel should labour to understand what they hear. Christ asks if they have understood.

2. Ministers should use catechising to take account of whether their hearers have understood their teaching. This is what Christ did in asking this question of the disciples.

3. No matter what capability they have, everyone should be willing to give account to their teachers of whether they have progressed in knowledge. The disciples answer, “Yea, Lord”.



Basic instruction remains necessary. The recent popularity of instructional courses like the Alpha Course  demonstrates this. Unfortunately, in reinventing the wheel such courses often alter or dilute the truth. The Westminster Shorter Catechism covers the body of truth comprehensively but with concise treatment. It sets out we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires from us. It has not been possible to improve on its approach. Any Christian will benefit from it and any Christian parent will value from using it with their children. Any minister will find that it helps reinforce their preaching. 


Get it Now!

Find out how Bible truths fit together, relate to and depend on each other so that you can learn, live and love all the truth of the Bible. This book is designed to help you do this using the Shorter Catechism.



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Catch the Flame – the Faith of the Gospel on Fire

Catch the Flame – the Faith of the Gospel on Fire

Catch the Flame – the Faith of the Gospel on Fire

Revival is the weak flame of the Church being reignited by the power of the Holy Spirit. Reformation is Christ’s refining fire to purify and transform His Church. The Second Reformation in Scotland was both a revival and reformation.

It was not simply that the faith of the gospel was maintained and proclaimed. It was on fire across the nation and in the hearts and lives of believers. It was a burning fire within the hearts of preachers so that they could not do anything but declare it with power.

This is the description that John Macleod gives in his classic Scottish Theology.

It was the faith of the gospel on fire that wrought so mightily in those days of the seventeenth century.

Scottish Theology in relation to Church History is full of momentum and interest. It interweaves biography, history and doctrine in an engaging way. This is not a cold and technical book but full of human interest.  A fresh reprint by the Banner of Truth Trust is now available.

Macleod shows how the Second Reformation took the flame of the faith of the gospel from “the godly evangelical fathers” of the Reformation. Their “plain undiluted teaching of sovereign grace” was applied earnestly both in preaching and catechising.

“This was to be found in a rich and full exhibition of the doctrine of grace alike as it builds on the humbling revelation of man’s sin, and of God’s wrath called forth thereby, and, on the other hand, as it sets forth a salvation that is all of God and all of grace in its inception, in its provision, and in its effectual bestowal.


This doctrine of salvation they drew from the Scriptures which they took at their own valuation and so looked upon as the very word of God. The truth of this divine message they laid to heart as it told them their own doom and that of their fellows. The truth too, of its message they believed when it spoke to them of Jesus our Lord as the Saviour of sinners. They received it as truth when it told of what he has done and won and of how he lives to bestow the life that he died to secure.


They would not be content unless they had him as their own. And as they felt their fellows to be sinners like themselves, under the same curse and needing the same blessing, they yearned over their souls, set forth to them the truth of law and gospel and with all earnestness besought them to flee from the wrath to come and betake themselves to Christ the Lord.


As they wrestled in prayer with God for power to attend and crown his word they wrestled with their fellows to win them for him.

They bore witness to the truth. They warned of danger. They entreated. They exhorted. They reasoned. They taught. They called. They invited.


Nor was their ministry left without the seals that attest the power of the gospel. For as they were anointed richly with the spirit of their office they preached the gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven to crown it with success in his new-creating power.


A message sent forth with such power carried with it its own credentials. The faith that it called into being saw with opened eyes the evidence of the truth that it welcomed. Thus convinced sinners had, like those who heard the apostles, a witness in themselves which left them satisfied that what they welcomed was no cunningly devised fable, but the very truth of God.


A community which got the good of such a message was rooted in the doctrine of the gospel and tended to become one that was very theologically minded. And this was none the less the case as the outcome of the catechetic method of instruction that was current in the Reformed churches and in the use of which the Reformed church in Scotland did not lag behind her sisters”. (pp.103-105).

Read the article “Scotland’s Greatest Revival” to learn more about how the Second Reformation was the period of greatest revival throughout the whole nation that Scotland has ever experienced.


Scotland has made a unique contribution in the field of theology, and the influence of its theologians has been and continues to be felt across the world. Indeed it was an American audience for whom John Macleod prepared this narrative of Scottish Theology, which was originally delivered as lectures to students at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Scottish Theology in relation to Church History is published by Banner of Truth



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