The Christian and Government

The Holy Scriptures very clearly teach us that there is an authority higher than any human government. Our first obedience, our first allegiance, and our first love belongs to that authority alone; none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. If you love, serve, or obey anyone or anything above Him, this paper is not for you. But if He is truly the Supreme Ruler of your heart, If you would rather die than be untrue to Him, then read on. Many have given their lives rather than betray His trust. Current events continue to look more and more like some of us may be called to do the same. Truly He is worth our undivided allegiance, for He gave Himself for our ransom. We were guilty rebels, rightfully condemned to die, and He died for us.

But in following Him, we need to know what He requires of us. In Hosea 4:6 we read that "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge:" This often quoted scripture indeed warns us that a lack of knowledge can destroy us. But we also need to notice the rest of this verse, which goes on to say that "because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children." This was willful ignorance, like that in 2 Peter 3:5, where the Holy Spirit says, "For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:" The law of God given through Moses contained sacrifices to atone for sins committed in ignorance. (Leviticus 4 and 5) But Hebrews 10:26 warns us that "if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins."

If the government commands us to disobey God, we cannot obey its command. Obedience to our God comes before obedience to anything else. This principle is clearly taught and repeatedly demonstrated in scripture. In Acts 5 the ruling council of Jerusalem commanded the Apostles not to teach in the name of Jesus. In verse 29 "Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men." In Daniel 3, king Nebuchadnezzar commanded Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to worship an idol. In verse 18 they answered "we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." Some years later their friend Daniel served under a king that forbade him to pray, but "When Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime." (Daniel 6:10) God answered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego by keeping them alive in the fiery furnace. He answered Daniel by shutting the mouths of the lions. "And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth." (Hebrews 11:36-38) God does not always deliver us from oppression, but He always honors obedience.

But while we are responsible to refuse to obey an evil command, this does not mean we are authorized to deny the authority of the government or to rebel against it. Daniel and his three friends did not stop serving their governments. Indeed, after their confrontations "the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon." (Daniel 3:30) And "Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian." (Daniel 6:28) Daniel served so faithfully that his enemies concluded that "We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God." (Daniel 6:5) When the Apostle Paul was being railroaded through a kangaroo court, he angrily answered a man who told others to smite him on the mouth. But he apologized when he realized that the man was the high priest, saying, "I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people." (Acts 23:5)

Many think we have a perfect right to reject the authority of an evil government. But the scriptures teach the very opposite. The earth has rarely, if ever, had a government more evil than ancient Rome. This wicked government existed and extended itself through brutal force. It simply invaded neighboring countries, killed anyone who resisted, and stole all their riches. It regularly practiced mass murder of innocent victims for no better reason than entertainment. It was legal for a man to kill his children. It was during The New Testament era that Nero, Emperor of Rome, publicly married a man with himself as the bride. The worst evils we have yet seen in America are mild compared to normal life in ancient Rome. But when the Apostle Paul was on trial in Jerusalem he said "I stand at Caesar's judgment seat, where I ought to be judged:" (Acts 25:10)

Romans 13:1-7 says "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour."

This instruction is repeated twice more in the New Testament. 1 Peter 2:13-17 tells us to "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." And Titus 3:1-2 says "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work."

Many have spent much effort in trying explain away these simple instructions. The most common explanation being circulated today is that they only apply to "legitimate" governments. When people say this they forget four critical things:

First, the scriptures do not give us the authority to decide if the government is legitimate. Romans 13:1 says that "there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God." The question is not whether a government is "legitimate," but whether it has power. If it has power, it got that power from God. Jesus referred to this when He told Pilate that "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above:" (John 19:11)

Second, the government that was in power when this was written could not even pretend to any kind of legitimacy in modern terms. This government imposed itself upon the world by military force. It simply invaded neighboring countries and declared itself the new ruler. One ancient writer complained of the Roman armies that "making a desolation about themselves, they called it peace." But the Apostle Paul, as we have seen, recognized Caesar's authority.

Third, Daniel 4:17 expressly tells us "that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men." Is a ruler evil? Daniel 4:17 tells us that he is the kind of man that "the most High" sets up to rule "in the kingdom of men."

Fourth, Romans 13:2 says that "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." God himself will judge those that resist the power, for He ordained it. We find this warning again in 2 Peter 2:9-10, which tells us that "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities." Those that despise government are the chief subjects of this scripture, and they will be punished in "the day of judgment." Proverbs 24:21-22 says "My son, fear thou the LORD and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change: For their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the ruin of them both?"

In this regard we need to notice a passage from the Old Testament. In 1 Samuel 8:4-18 we read:

"Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.

"And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day."

We need to carefully notice that last sentence: "And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day." Our God puts great importance on our choices. When they are made, he requires us to live with them. The people wanted a king. This disappointed the prophet, but it also disappointed God, who said in essence, "You want a king, very well, you've got one. But don't come crying to me when he disappoints you. I will not save you from him. Even so today, the rulers of our nation did not come in with armies and take over. The people chose them. But what kind of rulers have they chosen? We have repeatedly seen men publicly exposed as evil, yet they are still elected. Man dare to openly stand for everything evil, and the people still choose them. Can we expect God to save us from them? Before you answer, read 1 Samuel 8:4-18 again.

We can learn much in this regard by studying the related subject of slavery. Who can deny that slavery is unjust? But 1 Timothy 6:1-5 says: "Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself."

This is some of the strongest language in all of scripture. Anyone who denies this instruction is proud and knows nothing. He dotes about questions and strifes of words. He has a corrupt mind, destitute of the truth. What he is doing is so evil, and we are commanded to withdraw from him.

The same instruction is repeated in Titus 2:9-10: "Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; Not purloining, but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." Some have imagined that these scriptures justify slavery. They do not. These are instruction to Christians who find themselves enslaved. The word of God always takes us wherever we are and tells us what to do in that situation. Slaves were not authorized to rebel, or even to run away. Indeed, when Onesimus, a runaway slave, came to Paul, he sent him back to his master. (see Philemon 10-16) This grates against modern sensibility. Doesn't God care about suffering people? He has proved this beyond question. But he has a higher purpose in mind 1 Corinthians 7:21-22 says "Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant."

God's way is not to deliver us from unpleasant situations, but to give us triumph over them. Not triumph over the people that cause them, but triumph over the situations themselves. Joseph was unjustly made a slave. He faithfully served his master, even when cast into prison. Inside the prison, he continued to serve faithfully. God rewarded him with an office that would today be called Prime Minister of Egypt. The LORD anointed David to be king over Israel. Because of this, the current king, Saul, decided to kill him. David was forced to flee for his life, and Saul hunted him for years. But David would not lift a hand in self defense. He twice had a chance to kill Saul, but he would not, for the LORD had anointed him. David knew he would eventually become the king, for the LORD had promised it. But he was willing to wait until the LORD made it happen. What did God think of this? For hundreds of years afterward He called David "a man after God's own heart." This expression can be found many places in the Old Testament.

The instructions to slaves seem strange to the modern mind, but their reason is explained in 1 Peter 2:18-23: "Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:" These reasons also apply to our relationship to the government. 1 Timothy 6:13 tells us that Christ Jesus "witnessed a good confession" before Pontius Pilate. But what did he say? Almost nothing. Isaiah predicted this long before with the words: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth." (Isaiah 53:7) Why did He do this? Let us look at His teaching.

In Matthew 5:38-41 Jesus said: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain."

Our Lord was here instituting a new moral code, one higher than the old law of justice. But it was not just a superior moral code. It was a better way of living. Better, not just for the overall good, but for the good of whoever followed it. The importance of this instruction can be judged by the number of times the Holy Spirit refers to it. The essence of this passage is repeated in Luke 6:27-36. 1 Corinthians 6:7 corrects Christians who were going to law, saying "Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?" Romans 12 says "Recompense to no man evil for evil." (verse 17) and "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." (verse 21)

One might well ask, how can I benefit by yielding to someone who wants to do me wrong? We can well understand that our God may have some kind of an overall plan that will eventually bring good out of such action. We can understand, for instance, that if we do not resist an evil man, this might reach his conscience and eventually bring him to repentance. But how can yielding benefit me? There are two benefits. The first is found in Luke 6:35, where Jesus said "But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil." The first benefit, then, is that such obedience will be well rewarded when we get to heaven. This is again brought before us in Hebrews 10:34, where the Holy Spirit commends some who "took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance."

But there is a second benefit. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us to "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

The second benefit, then, is peace. Peace of mind. A peace not external, but internal. If I fight for my rights, defending my person and my property, I may indeed succeed in protecting them. But I will still loose. I may keep my things, but I will loose my peace. I may save my life, but I will loose my reward. If, on the other hand, I simply yield, the enemy may take away everything I have, he may even kill my body, but he cannot touch me; for I have retreated into a fortress too strong for him. That fortress is the love and wisdom of my God; the faith that He will not allow anything He cannot turn to my good, and that he will richly reward me for any loss I sustain in His service. Scriptural yielding is not a fatalistic acceptance of power too great for us to resist, but a willing yielding to the authority of God, and thus to whatever He allows in our lives. When I do this from the depths of my soul, I have triumphed over the circumstances.

The attitude we should have toward the government is summed up in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, where we read: "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." This scripture does not tell us to pray against "kings, and... all that are in authority." It tells us to pray for them. This indicates support for the government, not resistance against it.

But if we are not to resist an evil government, how are we to fight evil? We first need to remember that "though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) As we have already noticed, the greatest defeat Satan ever received was accomplished by refusing to fight. More can sometimes be accomplished in a single prayer meeting than in a hundred activist meetings. Our Lord told Peter to "Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?" (Matthew 26:52-54)

A pattern for success in the war against evil can be found in Daniel 9 and Nehemiah 1. Those who desire restoration in our land should carefully study these passages. They teach us three words that will move the heart of the almighty God of heaven and earth. These words are "we have sinned." Daniel and Nehemiah both prayed these words, with awesome results. In Daniel 9:4-19 we read:

"And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments; We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee. O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him; Neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him. And he hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil: for under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem. As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth. Therefore hath the LORD watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the LORD our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice. And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly. O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake. O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name."

We need to notice just who this was that prayed this prayer. In Ezekiel 14:12-20 we read: "The word of the LORD came again to me, saying, Son of man, when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it: Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD. If I cause noisome beasts to pass through the land, and they spoil it, so that it be desolate, that no man may pass through because of the beasts: Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate. Or if I bring a sword upon that land, and say, Sword, go through the land; so that I cut off man and beast from it: Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only shall be delivered themselves. Or if I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my fury upon it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast: Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness."

This was written during the life of Daniel. Can you imagine being publicly compared to Noah and Job as a prime example of righteousness? Yet more, can you imagine having this done by God himself, while you yet lived? This truly was awesome. Daniel was one of the most righteous men that ever lived. But he didn't pray "they have sinned." He prayed "we have sinned." Daniel associated himself with the evil, and confessed it as if he had himself done it. Nehemiah prayed in the same way, adding the words "both I and my father's house have sinned." We find his prayer in Nehemiah 1:4-11:

"And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven, And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments: Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there. Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand. O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer."

How did the God of heaven respond to these prayers? Daniel was answered with the famous prophecy of the seventy weeks. Many consider this the central key to understanding end time prophecy in the Bible. This prophecy assured Daniel and the people of God ever since that Israel would most certainly be restored. Nehemiah was answered with a royal commission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

We do not need a great army to prevail in prayer. Like the marines, we only need a few good men. In Ezekiel 22:30-31 the Lord said that "I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord GOD." A single man praying like Daniel could have prevented the destruction, but there was not even one.

But there is particular power in corporate confession and prayer. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 we read that "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

This is what our land needs. It needs healing. We cannot accomplish this in the streets. We cannot accomplish this in committee rooms. We cannot accomplish this with new rulers, or with reformed laws. All these things will most certainly fail. But we can accomplish this with our faces on the floor. If we come before the eternal throne complaining about what "those wicked government officials" have done, we have no right expect Divine help, for they got their power through the choice of the people. But if we repent as a body; if we come before the throne confessing that out nation has sinned and that we are part of this sinful nation; if we throw ourselves on His everlasting mercy; He will most assuredly respond. Only thus can we accomplish any lasting restoration.

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Copyright 1996 by James C. Morris

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