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Text Sermons : Andrew Bonar : Development of Antichrist - Chapter 3. His Characteristics and Duration

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The very name of Antichrist implies a denial of Christ having come in the flesh as well as an assumption of His place and dignity; and so exactly does this description apply, that to deny Christ in any measure or shape is held to indicate the working of that spirit of Antichrist which was already in the world in the apostle’s day (1 John 4:3). In one form or another, therefore, more or less prominently, this characteristic will be seen to mark the "many antichrists" that have appeared, whilst "the Antichrist" himself, following at the end, when transgressors have come to the full, and having necessarily (to begin with), like all that preceded him, denied the Spirit of Christ as utterly opposed to his, will reject the Son Himself and thereafter deny the Father also, exalting himself, without any concealment then, above all that is called God.

It is clear, from the terms employed that Paul as well as John speaks of one and the same opposition to the truth, for the former tells of the mystery of iniquity already working in his day (2 Thess. 2:7), and the latter, that it was already in the world (1 John 4:3), whilst both describe the evil as characterized by the same spirit of enmity. It is reserved however, as we have seen, for the last days to reveal Antichrist himself in all his malignity and impiety, for it is not until then that he is seen personally sitting as God "in the temple of God" (2 Thess. 2:4).

Another mention of him is in Daniel 11, giving a further detail of the recklessness with which he proceeds, and by which he is so strongly characterized. "The king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done. Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers (does not this imply he will be an individual man?), nor the desire of women (that is Christ, of Whom all Jewish women desired to be the mother), nor regard any god; for he shall magnify himself above all."

The times too which will introduce this great enemy are, as they advance, to exhibit more and more of the spirit which is to be fully developed in him. They are, as has been seen, spoken of as "the last times" in which the wicked shall do wickedly, and when "none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand" (Dan. 12:10). This is in harmony with what the apostle declares, "knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (world) (2 Peter 3:3-4). All this is descriptive of the spirit of Antichrist now rapidly maturing for his development.

In 2 Timothy 3:2-5 we have, again, the same last days described when "men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers (we have seen how Antichrist breaks his covenant), false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good . . . having a form of godliness (Antichrist will have his forms to begin with also), but denying the power thereof." From all such things Timothy is commanded to turn away.

And surely as the last days in which they are to be, draw on, it well becomes all who, like him, have learned and been assured, to turn more earnestly than ever to the Holy Scriptures they have known "from a child," and which are declared, in distinct reference to these "perilous times," to be able to make wise unto salvation, not through such teaching as Antichrist’s will be, but "through faith which is in Christ Jesus."

It is not without reason that such a caution is given, for few perhaps are aware how subtle and dangerous already is the attempt to criticize and impugn the great truth that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3:16), and to introduce other appliances. The deceivableness of unrighteousness, let us always remember, comes in, not by openly denying what it means to overthrow, but by introducing by little and little such specious corrections and improvements as, in the end, will answer the purpose which an open avowal at the outset would have prevented.

The Antichrist does not at his first appearance shock the prejudices of those whose faith he at last overthrows. He comes in "by flatteries" (Dan. 11:21), such as are grateful to the natural man who finds that something may, with apparent plausibility, be said against that which has been the great barrier to the indulgence of his own passions and will. He finds in Scripture much that is "foolishness" to him (1 Cor. 2:14), but which fear has kept him from openly questioning, as long as his belief in inspiration remains. Let however that once be shaken by the idea of errors and incorrect statements having crept in, or that words may be altered from their ordinary plain meaning, and very soon the wholesome reverence is gone.

Such at present (1853, Ed.) is the direct tendency of the German school above all the others, which are, however, beginning to follow in its wake, whilst surely warning might be taken from the deep rooted infidelity, which in consequence is more and more displaying there the danger of all such tampering with Holy Writ.

If France is distinguished by its licentious infidel writings, the slower thinking German is ponderously advancing by a still more dangerous road to the rejection in the end of all inspired truth together, whilst his metaphysical subtleties and criticisms are already perceptibly infecting the faith of his neighbors. Such popular writers as Goethe and Richter have done much in their day to prepare the public mind for this, and an echo of their style may be caught more and more distinctly from our own shores, where men like Carlyle and Kingsley have caught it up. "Great swelling words of vanity" draw men out of their depth to indulge, at the risk of themselves and others, in mental exercises there all leading to deeper unbelief, and "the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

And such really is the case already with these teachers; some of whom are turning deliberately into fables much of the historic portion of Scripture. One of the most distinguished of them, Ewald, a German critic who himself wrote a "history of the people of Israel," speaks of the authors of the prophecy of Moses and Balaam as "prophetic relators of what had already happened, and of their predictions being a peculiar style of authorship"! He also maintains that so far from Moses having written the book of Deuteronomy, it was not written for 800 years after his death, and that whoever compiled it then, had felt himself at such a distance from the events he professed to relate, as "to have allowed his fancy the freest play with them in his way of treating history." He tries also to show that "the Patriarchs were polytheistic in their religion," into which "Mosaicism" introduced a "certain monotheistic character," which is shown by the oath between Jacob and Laban calling on the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, as two different Gods recognized by them also by there being altars to the God of Bethel, and the God of Abraham!

Yet this is the man whom another, still better known, and who is domesticated among us in high places with great influence derived from his distinguished personal character and accomplishments as a scholar, welcomes into the field of Bible criticism with the strongest expressions of joy. And for an explanation of this, let any one examine what the Chevalier Bunsen himself says in his well-known work on Egyptian history, and he will be at no loss to discover the origin of this liking. Mr. Bunsen will there be seen to speak of the chronology and history of the Old Testament just as lightly as M. Ewald does, and in a very different manner from Paul, who quotes it in his epistles to the Romans, Galatians and Hebrews, as literally and strictly true, just as the martyred Stephen had done before, who, we are told, spoke "being full of the Holy Ghost."

But these names, alas! are not solitary instances of such infection having already extended among us. It has gone much further than people are willing to believe, and men of high standing in literature and power of writing, have not only themselves become tainted with this sort of skepticism, but are laboring to spread it in what they declare to be their zeal for the truth.

Listen to what their organ, the Westminster Review, of July 1852 says, "The theory of the origin of Christianity from agencies exclusively divine and of the infallible character of the canonical books, can no more be restored now than Roman history can be put back to what it was before Niebuhr’s time" (page 175). And further on, "This in spite of every resistance from the rigor of the old theology, is an inevitable consequence of the modern historical criticism. But its large and genial apprehensions will open for us new admirations, it will do away with an unnatural dualism, and reinstate the great families of man in unity" (page 204).

This is pure antichristianism which, by removing "the offence of the cross" as producing what it calls "dualism," or as our Lord Himself had previously declared it to be, "division" (Luke 12:51-53), would try to introduce a system of godless brotherhood such as Antichrist himself will ere long be seen presiding over, and all the world wondering after, and worshipping him. It is in this direction that one of the dangers of these "perilous times" lies, for if Scripture is to be so dealt with, what has man left to meet the "strong delusion" in which Antichrist will come with his lie? It is for him to launch without helm or compass into a troubled sea where currents more dangerous than the winds and the waves are running and drifting insensibly all that is floating on them towards a fatal shore.

Of the doctrines springing up under such a system we have already seen some specimens, whilst an occasional glimpse is afforded us of results still more matured, and which may well make us tremble and cling closer than before to Bible truth. Within a very short period it has been openly broached in Germany in so many words, that from the confusion prevailing in religious belief as well as in all social arrangements so markedly seen in our days, it has become evident that the power which has governed mankind hitherto is become unfit for the task, and that man himself, therefore, no longer in his infancy, must rouse up to undertake it!

Such as these are the advances being made by antichristianism even in the midst of us. The barriers in the way are the Scriptures in their integrity, "given by inspiration of God," and "which are able to make . . . wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." And along with them, the promised teaching of the Holy Ghost "the Comforter . . . Whom the Father will send in My Name, He shall teach you all things" (John 14:26).

When these are disowned and cast off, as we see they are already beginning to be by so many, what is to hinder men coming to worship the devil in the end (Rev. 13:4), as well as the Antichrist "whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a (the) lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess. 2:9-12).

It may seem hard to connect in any way, even the remotest, with such dangerous writers a very different class of men who have been assigning to Scripture words a metaphorical interpretation, chiefly to carry out prophetic theories of their own. Yet the plain truth is that the tendency of all such liberties is to encourage the profane hands which, with widely different feelings and intentions, are touching the Scriptures of truth. If Christians among themselves are seen by the unbelieving multitude without, claiming a latitude of meaning which would make inspiration say anything, what right have they to complain if they themselves are charged with inconsistency in their way of reading it? "That the Scripture might be fulfilled," is an expression of frequent occurrence in it, and always to point out that, however men might previously have been viewing it, the fulfillment of a prophecy when so announced proved it to have been a literal one.

What is contended for, therefore, on this point is, that by such warning in the past, Christians are bound to receive what is written in a literal sense, except where symbols, as in the Revelation, are avowedly the medium of instruction, or in cases where the language is shown to be figurative from the circumstance that otherwise an absurdity or physical impossibility would arise. This was the rule of the "judicious" Hooker, and in fact what we ourselves observe in regard to every book we read, and in every conversation we hold; also, for instance, in the case of the woman in Revelation 12, seen "clothed with the sun and with the moon under foot," where plainly a symbolic meaning attaches to her as much as to the seven candlesticks which symbolize churches.

Our own language abounds in metaphor, and we can scarcely utter a sentence which does not contain one. Yet we are living in a practical age where literal meaning is indispensable, and where in fact no one feels at a loss as to what is really meant. Why should we treat Scripture language differently? Or say that "that man of sin" means a succession of men, and "that wicked" or lawless one "whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of His coming," a succession of evil principles to be absorbed by the advance of the Spirit of Truth? The mischief to all from such lax interpretations is incalculable, and is leading many in despair to ask like Pilate "What is truth?" without waiting for an answer to their question.

It has been tried throughout to point attention to what is said of a personal Antichrist who is yet to be seen, and who in the latter days (which must be near) will realize and embody the spirit of the many antichrists that are in the world. His characteristics, of which we are now particularly speaking, must necessarily be in unison with his times from the welcome they give him, and therefore what Scripture says of them is full of warning as to what manner of man he will himself be when he is seen.

Jude, in his epistle, gives us, along with the other inspired writers already referred to, a striking outline of these last days, and in perfect accordance with all other Scripture tells what Enoch, from remotest times, had prophesied of their termination by the Lord Himself coming "with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him" (Jude 14-15). In reading this short epistle, how wonderful does it appear that with such details of times so concluded as to make them to be as they are emphatically called (Jude 18) "the last," any one should still be found looking for a general amelioration as Scripture truth is disseminated.

Yet thousands of such there are who will see nothing even of such a "coming of the Lord" as is here spoken of, but who persist in making it an entirely spiritual one or gradual working of His power on the hearts of men to convince them finally of their ungodly deeds. Whilst entertaining such ideas, they will not see anything of "the apostasy" yet to be (in general they believe it to have been already seen in the papacy), or of the man of sin who is to be over it and thought now to be the succession of popes about to terminate, when no bar will remain to the realization of their expectations of such a spread of gospel light and truth as will turn the earth and its inhabitants into all they are most unlike to at present.

Is there no danger when even Christian men are found thinking so, and stopping their ears against such plain Scriptures as would warn them how they try to find good where God tells them they will find only evil? If Jude, among others, speaks of "the last time" and refers to a distinct coming of the Lord to terminate them with "judgment executed upon all" (Jude 18,15), how vain the thought of seeing any distinguishing mark in the people that will be living in them, but that which he applies so terribly - murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouths speaking great swelling words, having men’s persons (not Christ’s) in admiration because of advantage (Jude 16).

Is it not possible to rouse Christians to consider all this, when they see the most infidel and godless all rejoicing with them in the prospect of increasing emancipation, and of the "good times" that are coming as ancient prejudices disperse before the dawn of reason; when Scripture accuracy and inspiration is impugned and found to be a hindrance to the progress of the day; when commercial interest, not religious principles which are more and more pushed into a corner, is looked on as the bond which is yet to unite in brotherhood, and when in a word man is to do everything and be everything, and God a mere idea in all this scheme of coming happiness? Is there nothing in Scripture warning that instead of it, there is yet to be "great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:21), a trouble which is to yield to no scheme of amelioration which man can devise, or be averted by such a course as he is pursuing?

To speak of such things may seem ungracious, but so has the truth of God ever seemed when opposing the willfulness of man whose first temptation by Satan (Gen. 3:5) was to be independent of his Maker, as he will with his Antichrist succeed in tempting him to hazard being again. In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt not surely die, was the lie of the devil which prevailed with our first parents to eat, that "your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." The same lure is being displayed to their descendants under circumstances and with a result which will show that, in himself, man is hopelessly evil (Jer. 17:9,18), and that the finished work and perfect righteousness of Christ alone can restore the beauty and order that has been marred.

Under all conditions, whether in Patriarchal, Mosaic, or Christian dispensations, man will in the end have been shown a failure, the more unmistakable if in the face of all the lessons and experience of the past, the last days are to exceed (as they will do if Scripture be true—and it is) in daring wickedness all that preceded them. But when "the transgressors are come to the full" (Dan. 8:23), and man in the trouble that is coming has been shown how vain his thoughts of amendment and amelioration have been, the Lord Himself "will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness; because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth" (Rom. 9:28).

With regard to the duration of the reign of the Antichrist, we have seen that in his connection with Jewish history, a hebdomad or seven years is wanting to complete the seventy weeks of Daniel’s prophecy, and that during all that "week" he acts a prominent part. There is no Scripture to lead us to think he is seen for any considerable period before it, and certainly he is not seen after it, for the anointing of the Most Holy and the bringing in everlasting righteousness (Dan. 9:24) closes all, as "the transgression" itself is finished by the destruction of that wicked or lawless one at Christ’s coming (2 Thess. 2:8).

There is much mischief in trying to be wise above what is written, for Scripture is not given to gratify an idle curiosity, but for our instruction and correction in righteousness, "that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This surely implies that he is also to be thoroughly furnished against all evil ones, which again, we believe to be the reason why so much is said by both prophet and apostle of the character of the unrighteousness in the last times, as well as of the Antichrist himself under whom the consummation of it is to be. For then, through what is permitted to Satan, it will be "with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness" (2 Thess. 2:9-10), to deceive, were it possible, "the very elect," unless thoroughly furnished by warning against it.

To show that the notion of a personal Antichrist, with a limited duration, is at least not a novel idea, it will serve to look here a little into what "the fathers" thought and wrote on the subject. In doing so, however, let it not be imagined that there is any intention of conceding to them and their opinions the place of authority which a large party in this country are trying to obtain for them now. The attempt being made is, in fact, a revival of what was witnessed in the reign of James and more openly in that of his son, when the first fervors of Luther’s reformation were subsiding, and when Andrews and Laud sought, by magnifying them as links in the apostolic succession, to exalt thereby ecclesiastical power in opposition to the Puritans. But the deference thus shown to an imaginary perfection and unity in the early ages gave a great advantage to Rome, and then as now, many were the secessions to it from among the high church party.

It seems to be overlooked that the testimony of these same fathers extends over twelve centuries, including among them the darkest ages of popery, and that, from the very outset, there is not only the greatest discrepancy of opinion on nearly every important point, but also the most flagrant error. In fact, the "catena" is one of false instead of consistent Scripture doctrine, and what is remarkable the nearer the apostolic times, the more grievous appears to have been the perversion.

With the exception of the existence of God in a Trinity of Persons, and the belief that the Roman empire would end in ten kingdoms and Antichrist to be destroyed by the Lord’s coming, there is scarcely a truth which is not overlaid or distorted. The danger has ever been from within the professing church rather than from without, and of this the apostle, accordingly, is seen warning God’s people in his day of what they were to expect when he himself was withdrawn from them. "Know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away (many) disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30).

To quote here from the fathers therefore is for the alone purpose of showing that the truth of a personal Antichrist at least was, amidst all their differences, nearly unanimously maintained by them all. They further considered that he would come out of the Roman empire, when towards the close, it should have become divided into ten kingdoms, three of which are to be subdued by him, and all to continue supporting him to the last.

Hippolytus, one of them (died c236) expressly says (in "de Antichristo") that "the ten states, meaning the ten toes of Daniel’s image, which will at length appear will be democracies," which is in accordance seemingly with the increasingly "clay-iron" character of the present day. (For an account of the testimony of Hippolytus, see Mr. B W Newton s "Babylon and Egypt, Appendix A"— Ed).

Another of them, Irenaeus (c130-c202), considers that "when they are reigning, and beginning to settle and aggrandize themselves, suddenly one will come and claim the kingdom and terrify them as foretold." In the same treatise the same old writer says, "the adversary will sit in a temple built at Jerusalem, endeavoring to show himself to be Christ." And again, "It will be he who will resuscitate the kingdom of the Jews."

The Jews themselves, it is sufficiently known, are prepared to receive one who will do so, having rejected our Lord and theirs, Whose life as well as death had disappointed those among them who at that time "trusted it had been He Which should have redeemed Israel" (Luke 24:21). The veil being upon their eyes, they are to this day expecting a deliverer of their own race* according to promise, whilst nevertheless rejecting still the idea of His being also the Son of God, as they say "Israel’s God is One God." The mystery of Christ in the flesh, despised then, is now altogether "hid from their eyes," which they are opening wider and wider as the time draws near, to descry him who, coming in his own name, will be received by them (John 5:43).

*(It is strange how general the belief was in ancient days, that in some way or other he is to be especially connected with the tribe of Dan. This may have proceeded from such as the following considerations: The sceptre was not to depart from Judah (Gen. 49:10), and yet we read "Dan shall judge his people;" with what sort of judgment may be inferred at least from the description given to him, as "a serpent by the way . . . that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward;" and that too followed by an aspiration of the patriarch as if he foresaw trouble coming, "I have waited for Thy salvation, O LORD" (Gen. 49:16-18). The same with Moses: (Deut. 33:22) "Dan is a lion’s whelp: he shall leap from Bashan" (a word used in Scripture to denote pride and opposition). "Strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round" (Ps. 22:12). "Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan" (Amos 4:]). In Jeremiah 4, where "the destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way" (verse 7) with his chariots as a whirlwind, and horses swifter than eagles (verse 13), to give out their voice against the cities of Judah (verse 16) because she hath been rebellious against Me (verse 17), it is a voice from Dan that declareth it (verse 15). In Jeremiah 8:16, "the snorting of his horses was heard from Dan," with the whole land trembling with the sound of his strong ones. Whilst in Revelation 7, where the tribes of Israel are sealed before the judgments are let loose on Antichrist and his followers, that of Dan is omitted, and the name of a half tribe substituted for it. In Amos 8:14 too, a curse is recorded against them that say "thy God, O Dan, liveth", and like them who receive the mark of the beast, "they shall fall, and never rise up again").

Irenaeus says ("Against Heresies, Book 5.30") that "the reign of Antichrist will be for three years and a half (the last half of the hebdomad), when he shall be destroyed by the Lord from heaven, and the kingdom of the Just One be established."

Many extracts of a like nature might be given, but it seems unnecessary here to extend quotations or name the names of the many others who express themselves similarly, with some important differences of opinion. (For a fuller account of the testimony of the fathers to a personal Antichrist, see Mr. B W Newton’s "Prospects of the Ten Kingdoms, 2nd Edition, Appendix A"— Ed.).

What has been quoted is chiefly to show that the idea of a personal Antichrist with a short supremacy at the close of this dispensation is no novelty, and that on the contrary it was in fact the universal early belief, men then taking Scripture words to mean what they really said. With some shades of difference, then, the general belief in early days was that Antichrist, as has been shown, would suddenly show himself at the very end of the Roman empire, which once was dominant, but now, in our days, is in a manner dormant. That he will knit it into one again by his skill and enterprise, engrafting Judaism upon the worship he sets up;—that he will then acquire the title of King of the Roman Empire, from the ten kings giving him their kingdom (Rev. 17:17)—that kingdom, be it recollected, being the last of four monarchies shown in the image of Daniel when "the Stone" falls, and he along with all its parts passes away as rapidly as he arose.

Thus Nebuchadnezzar, as the head or first king, received a pure monarchy from God (Dan. 2:37-38). Antichrist arising out from among the toes and also manifestly the last king, receives his power which is clay-iron or democratic ("mingled with the seed of men") apparently from the people or the kings over them, but in reality from the devil, as the "sure Word of prophecy" distinctly tells and makes us see (Rev. 13:4). Such is the contrast and such the end and destruction of the image by a still purer monarchy "which shall never be destroyed." Christ, the God-man, receiving it into His hands from "the God of heaven," even as Nebuchadnezzar, a fallen man, had been entrusted with it at first, had corrupted it, and like his successors, been deprived of it.

People in our days persist in saying that the destructive action of "the Stone" (Dan. 2:44-45) is the spread of the gospel, Christ’s spiritual reign constituting the millennium. But this, surely, a very slight consideration might show them to be impossible, for it would imply that Gentile power (the ten kingdoms) will be coexisting with the kingdom of Christ, which, on the contrary, it will be seen breaks in pieces and consumes all these kingdoms (Dan. 2:44). It is vain to say this prophecy was accomplished at the first advent, because the ten toes were not then in existence for the stone to fall upon. And no more could it be so when the gospel was preached by the apostles, else the Roman empire would then have been divided into ten kingdoms, which historically was not the case.

Another strange attempt, chiefly since Luther’s days, has been to convert the 1260 days into 1260 years, to measure out the supposed duration of the papacy which he fancied to be the man of sin as already alluded to. (For a fuller treatment of the year-day theory, see Mr. B W Newton’s "The Antichrist Future and the 1260 Days of Antichrist’s Reign" — Ed.).

Having assumed this measure of time to be satisfactorily proved, it is now deliberately argued that the pope must be the Antichrist inasmuch as no reign but his could at all be said to embrace so long a period, and this, without exaggeration or unfairness in the way of stating it, is a specimen of the reasoning to which so many are seen surrendering their own better judgment. What is known by the name of the year-day theory (a sort of contradiction in terms to begin with), is based chiefly on a perversion of two passages in Scripture—Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6—"I have appointed (given) thee each day for a year."

Had this meant, as alleged, that henceforth in all prophecy a day was to be taken for a year, what becomes of that most interesting one among all others uttered by our Lord Himself, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up," it being immediately added "but He spake of the temple of His body" (John 2:19,21), which surely no man will say was not raised on the third day, when "they came early in the week and found the stone rolled away," and the "two men in shining garments" declaring He was risen as He said?

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