Archive for the ‘Dabney’ Category

Baking Clay Pots – Subtracting Water or Adding Hardness?

October 9, 2009

Louis Ruggiero (aka LouRugg) asked my friend Dr. White:

Oh and by the way, when Turretinfan said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by taking away his common sense, I almost fell off my chair. Did he get that stuff from you, or did he make that one up on his own?

I answer:

One of the problems with the debate is that it does seem that LouRugg, despite apparently working on a book on Calvinism, has some significant gaps in his understanding of Reformed theology. That’s why he was apparently shocked that I didn’t argue that God zapped Pharaoh with hardening rather than withdrawing his blessing from him.

Where did I get the idea from? Well, I got it from Scripture. I got it from the fact that Paul contrasts hardening with mercy just as we might contrast light and darkness. Thus, I drew the inference that God’s hardening of a man is God’s act of not showing him some mercy. In the debate I called this God withholding from Pharaoh “common sense” though others might like the term “common grace.”

The passage in Romans 9 gave me further confirmation of this approach through the analogy of the potter and the clay. As I was thinking about the hardening and the potter, I thought: how does a potter harden a pot? The answer is, at least in part, by baking the pot – removing the water from the clay. The water that provides the softness is removed rather than some additional chemical that causes hardness being added. Now, I know that there are other things that go into the hardening of earthenware vessels, but that aspect is a significant one.

And it is not as though this is just a conclusion to which I arrived, but upon which I am at odds with the Reformed churches. Quite to the contrary, it is the widely held Reformed position. To wit,

John Gill:

God may be said to harden and blind, by denying them that grace which can only cure them of their hardness and blindness, and which he, of his free favour, gives to his chosen ones, (Ezek. 36:26, 27) but is not obliged to give it to any; and because he gives it not, he is said to hide, as he determined to hide, the things of his grace from the wise and prudent, even because it so seemed good in his sight, (Matthew 11:25, 26).

– John Gill, Of the Decree of Rejection

A.W. Pink:

Thus it was with each of us whilst in a state of nature. Sin blinds and hardens, and naught but Divine grace can illumine and soften. Nothing short of the power of the Almighty can pierce the calloused conscience or break the sin-petrified heart.

– A.W. Pink, The Restoration of David

R.L. Dabney:

Again: it is said, Scriptures teach, that the sin of the non–elect was not the ground of their preterition. “In John 10:26, continued unbelief is the consequence, and therefore not the ground of the Pharisees preterition” (Matt. 11:25; Rom. 9:11 18). “God’s will,” they say, “and not the non-sin, is the ground of His purpose to harden.” And “Esau was rejected as much without regard to his evil, as Jacob was elected without regard to his good deeds.” To the first of these points I reply, that the withholding of God’s grace is but the negative occasion of a sinner’s unbelief, just as the absence of the physician from a sick man is the occasion, and not the cause, of His death.

– R.L. Dabney, Predestination

Edward Payson:

The inspired writers teach us, very explicitly, that after a time, God ceases to strive with sinners, and to afford them the assistance of his grace. He gives them up to a blinded mind, a seared conscience, and a hard heart.

– Edward Payson, Sermon 18

John Calvin (who, you will note, suggests that in the case of Pharaoh God not only removed grace but also sent Satan):

3. Ancient writers sometimes manifest a superstitious dread of making a simple confession of the truth in this matter, from a fear of furnishing impiety with a handle for speaking irreverently of the works of God. While I embrace such soberness with all my heart, I cannot see the least danger in simply holding what Scripture delivers. when Augustine was not always free from this superstition, as when he says, that blinding and hardening have respect not to the operation of God, but to prescience (Lib. de Predestina. et Gratia). But this subtilty is repudiated by many passages of Scriptures which clearly show that the divine interference amounts to something more than prescience. And Augustine himself, in his book against Julian, [The French adds, “se retractant de l’autre sentence;” retracting the other sentiment.] contends at length that sins are manifestations not merely of divine permission or patience, but also of divine power, that thus former sins may be punished. In like manner, what is said of permission is too weak to stand. God is very often said to blind and harden the reprobate, to turn their hearts, to incline and impel them, as I have elsewhere fully explained (Book 1 c. 18). The extent of this agency can never be explained by having recourse to prescience or permission. We, therefore, hold that there are two methods in which God may so act. When his light is taken away, nothing remains but blindness and darkness: when his Spirit is taken away, our hearts become hard as stones: when his guidance is withdrawn, we immediately turn from the right path: and hence he is properly said to incline, harden, and blind those whom he deprives of the faculty of seeing, obeying, and rightly executing. The second method, which comes much nearer to the exact meaning of the words, is when executing his judgments by Satan as the minister of his anger, God both directs men’s counsels, and excites their wills, and regulates their efforts as he pleases. Thus when Moses relates that Simon, king of the Amorites, did not give the Israelites a passage, because the Lord 268“had hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate,” he immediately adds the purpose which God had in view—viz. that he might deliver him into their hand (Deut. 2:30). As God had resolved to destroy him, the hardening of his heart was the divine preparation for his ruin.

4. In accordance with the former methods it seems to be said,174174 Ezek. 7:26; Psalm 107:40; Job 12:20, 24; Isiah 63:17; Exod. 4:21; 7:3; 10:1; 3:19. “The law shall perish from the priests and counsel from the ancients.” “He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way.” Again “O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?” These passages rather indicate what men become when God deserts them, than what the nature of his agency is when he works in them. But there are other passages which go farther, such as those concerning the hardening of Pharaoh: “I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.” The same thing is afterwards repeated in stronger terms. Did he harden his heart by not softening it? This is, indeed, true; but he did something more: he gave it in charge to Satan to confirm him in his obstinacy. Hence he had previously said, “I am sure he will not let you go.” The people come out of Egypt, and the inhabitants of a hostile region come forth against them. How were they instigated? Moses certainly declares of Sihon, that it was the Lord who “had hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate,” (Deut. 2:30). The Psalmists relating the same history says, “He turned their hearts to hate his people,” (Psalm 105:25). You cannot now say that they stumbled merely because they were deprived of divine counsel. For if they are hardened and turned, they are purposely bent to the very end in view. Moreover, whenever God saw it meet to punish the people for their transgression, in what way did he accomplish his purpose by the reprobate? In such a way as shows that the efficacy of the action was in him, and that they were only ministers. At one time he declares, “that he will lift an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth;” at another, that he will take a net to ensnare them; and at another, that he will be like a hammer to strike them. But he specially declared that he was not inactive among theme when he called Sennacherib an axe, which was formed and destined to be wielded by his own hand.175175 Isa. 5:26; 7:18; Ezek. 12:13; 17:20; Jer. 2:.23; Isa. 10:15. Augustine is not far from the mark when he states the matter thus, That men sin, is attributable to themselves: that in sinning they produce this or that result, is owing to the mighty power of God, who divides the darkness as he pleases (August. de Prædest. Sanct).

5. Moreover, that the ministry of Satan is employed to instigate the reprobate, whenever the Lord, in the course of his providence, has any purpose to accomplish in them, will sufficiently appear from 269a single passage. It is repeatedly said in the First Book of Samuel, that an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, and troubled him (1 Sam. 16:14; 18:10; 19:9). It were impious to apply this to the Holy Spirit. An impure spirit must therefore be called a spirit from the Lord, because completely subservient to his purpose, being more an instrument in acting than a proper agent. We should also add what Paul says, “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth,” (2 Thess. 2:11, 12). But in the same transaction there is always a wide difference between what the Lord does, and what Satan and the ungodly design to do. The wicked instruments which he has under his hand and can turn as he pleases, he makes subservient to his own justice. They, as they are wicked, give effect to the iniquity conceived in their wicked minds. Every thing necessary to vindicate the majesty of God from calumny, and cut off any subterfuge on the part of the ungodly, has already been expounded in the Chapters on Providence (Book 1 Chapter 16–18). Here I only meant to show, in a few words, how Satan reigns in the reprobate, and how God works in both.

– John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 4

The bottom line, though is that LouRugg should at least have read the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) which states the general Reformed position (the London Baptist Confession saying essentially the same thing):

VI. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous judge, for former sins, doth blind and harden; from them he not only withholdeth his grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon their hearts; but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had; and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan; whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others.

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 5, Section 6

While God can send Satan to render us even more obstinate, it is sufficient for God to remove his grace from us. Like the earth that God softens with his showers (Psalm 65:10) or hearts can become instead hard and parched simply by his removal of the water of grace. And he can turn that parched ground into a pool if He wishes as well (Isaiah 35:7), showing mercy on whom he will show mercy and hardening whomsoever he wishes (Exodus 33:19 and Romans 9:15&18).

-TurretinFan

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Fellow Limited Atonement Advocate

March 3, 2009

Today I happened to spot the blog of a fellow advocate of Limited Atonement. Mr. Josh Walker of the Bring the Books blog has a number of interesting posts on the Atonement.

1. Demonstrates one (of several) problems with the theory that Calvin held universal atonement.

2. Demonstrates that Charles Hodge held to Limited Atonement.

3. Quotes John Murray on Limited Atonement.

4. Identifies Dabney’s refutation of Amyraldianism.

5. Even identifies that (at least at one time) even Doug Wilson held (or holds) to Limited Atonement.

-TurretinFan

Amyraldianism and the Canons of Dordt

December 29, 2008

Someone raised the question of why I would think that the Amyraldian position is at odds with the teachings of the Synod of Dordt. The following hopefully explains.

The Amyraldian position, per Dabney, is that “God decreed from eternity, to create the human race, to permit the fall; then in His infinite compassion, to send Christ to atone for every human being’s sins, (conditioned on his believing); but also foreseeing that all, in consequence of total depravity and the bondage of their will, would inevitably reject this mercy if left to themselves … .” (source)

The relevant parts of the Canons of Dordt are as follows (all references are within the topic of the Second Main Point of Doctrine):

Article 8: The Saving Effectiveness of Christ’s Death

For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones, in order that he might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father; that he should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit’s other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death); that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.

(emphases are my own)

Also, Rejection of Errors 1 states as the error:

Who teach that God the Father appointed his Son to death on the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect, complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had never in actual fact been applied to any individual.

and provides as the answer:

For this assertion is an insult to the wisdom of God the Father and to the merit of Jesus Christ, and it is contrary to Scripture. For the Savior speaks as follows: I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them (John 10:15, 27). And Isaiah the prophet says concerning the Savior: When he shall make himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days, and the will of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand (Isa. 53:10). Finally, this undermines the article of the creed in which we confess what we believe concerning the Church.

Further, Rejection of Errors 3 states as the error:

Who teach that Christ, by the satisfaction which he gave, did not certainly merit for anyone salvation itself and the faith by which this satisfaction of Christ is effectively applied to salvation, but only acquired for the Father the authority or plenary will to relate in a new way with men and to impose such new conditions as he chose, and that the satisfying of these conditions depends on the free choice of man; consequently, that it was possible that either all or none would fulfill them.

and provides as the answer:

For they have too low an opinion of the death of Christ, do not at all acknowledge the foremost fruit or benefit which it brings forth, and summon back from hell the Pelagian error.

Further, Rejection of Errors 6 states as the error:

Who make use of the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to instill in the unwary and inexperienced the opinion that God, as far as he is concerned, wished to bestow equally upon all people the benefits which are gained by Christ’s death; but that the distinction by which some rather than others come to share in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life depends on their own free choice (which applies itself to the grace offered indiscriminately) but does not depend on the unique gift of mercy which effectively works in them, so that they, rather than others, apply that grace to themselves.

and provides as the answer:

For, while pretending to set forth this distinction in an acceptable sense, they attempt to give the people the deadly poison of Pelagianism.

Analysis

The issue created by Amyraldianism is its making the atonement universal, by placing it before the decree of election in the order of decrees. It’s impossible, under the Amyraldian scheme (as it is presented by Dabney) for the atonement to be particular, because the election of people is logically subsequent to the decree of atonement. Accordingly, Christ dies for all mankind universally in an undifferentiated way, on the condition of faith. However, God recognizes that no one can fulfill this condition and consequently God elects to give some grace to fulfill the condition. Consequently, while the atonement itself (in the Amyraldian scheme) is universal, the application of that atonement is particular (as also in the Arminian scheme, although the way in which it becomes particular is different in the Arminian scheme).

Article 8 of Heading 2 of the Canons of Dordt is inconsistent with this view of the atonement. Article 8 states that “In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father … .” (emphases my own) This statement limits the scope of the atonement to the elect, through the explicit use of “only those.”

I realize that an Amyraldian who wished to agree with Dordt, for whatever reason, might try to latch hold of the word “effectively” and/or “redeem” to try to find a way to agree with Dordt without sacrificing their own view of the atonement. With respect to “redeem” the argument would amount to arguing that redemption is one thing, and presentation is another thing. Thus, the atonement was presented to God for all, but only the elect were redeemed by it. The argument with respect to “effectively” would be similar: only the elect are effectively redeemed, all the rest are ineffectively redeemed.

Each of these attempted end-runs are problematic. First, it should be obvious that the Arminian/Remonstrant should be able to say the same thing, and yet it is apparent from the historical context that the heading was opposed to the errors of the Remonstrants. Second, we see further clarification via the Rejection of errors sections.

The synod described, as an error, the position that “God the Father appointed his Son to death on the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect, complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had never in actual fact been applied to any individual.” Nevertheless, if the Amyraldian position were held, it would be the case that God so appointed his Son, and the worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood whole even if the obtained redemption was never applied to any individual. Indeed, since – in the Amyraldian position – the atonement is suspended on the hypothesis of faith, if no one has faith, the atonement is perfect with zero scope.

Error 3 is less directly relevant to Amyraldianism, but is still illustrative: “[It is an error to] teach that Christ, by the satisfaction which he gave, did not certainly merit for anyone salvation itself and the faith by which this satisfaction of Christ is effectively applied to salvation, but only acquired for the Father the authority or plenary will to relate in a new way with men and to impose such new conditions as he chose, and that the satisfying of these conditions depends on the free choice of man; consequently, that it was possible that either all or none would fulfill them.” Again, if Amyraldianism is correct, the atonement merely enabled faith as the condition of salvation. Now, perhaps Amyraldians would deny that faith is a condition of salvation in their system (and perhaps they are right in that denial), but the practical result of their system is that they make the atonement merely a doorway, and not the definite purchase of salvation for the elect. On the other hand, they make election the definite application of the atonement for the elect. In other words, an Amyraldian might be able to distinguish themselves from this precise error, but they could not do so in the way described, namely by asserting that the atonement was specifically for the elect.

Error 6 is probably the least relevant of the errors I’ve identified, but I think it helps to provide a last piece of the puzzle: “[It is an error to] make use of the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to instill in the unwary and inexperienced the opinion that God, as far as he is concerned, wished to bestow equally upon all people the benefits which are gained by Christ’s death; but that the distinction by which some rather than others come to share in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life depends on their own free choice (which applies itself to the grace offered indiscriminately) but does not depend on the unique gift of mercy which effectively works in them, so that they, rather than others, apply that grace to themselves.”

The Amyraldians would distinguish themselves from this error by denying that man’s own free choice applied to indiscriminately offered grace is what effectively works in them the grace of the atonement. Instead, the Amyraldian would say that it is grace that causes man to have faith that effectively works in the elect the grace of the atonement. Nevertheless, the Amyraldians would tend to use the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to argue that Christ died for all on the hypothesis of faith.

There is a real distinction between the obtaining of the redemption and the applying of the redemption, but the difference is not one of scope. The redemption is obtained for those to whom it is to be applied. Article 8 tries to make that clear by providing a chain (much like that found in Romans 8):

  • [It] was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant)
  • should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father;
  • that he should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit’s other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death);
  • that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith;
  • that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and
  • that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.

It’s worth noting one final point that sinks the Amyraldian ship (at least as defined by Dabney’s presentation of it): the article states that faith was acquired for the elect by Christ’s death (“faith (which … he acquired for them by his death)”). It would seem absurd to say that Christ universally acquired faith for all conditioned on faith.

-TurretinFan

Dabney on J.A. Alexander

August 23, 2008

Joshua Lim at Reformed Blogging has provided an interesting quotation from Dabney about Hodge (link). It’s worth noting that the idiom Dabney employs is a bit outdated and might seem confusing to modern readers. “Man of the closet” means someone who studies a lot, which we might today refer to as a person who lives in an ivory tower.

UPDATE: It turns out that it is not Hodge, but J.A. Alexander that was being discussed. Joshua has removed the post, so I’ll just post the relevant description, below:

“I was much struck with the fact that one who was so mach a man of the closet as he should have so much practical knowledge of society and human nature. During the day I remarked that there seemed to be a great difficulty in combining practical knowledge of men and affairs with thorough scholarship in our young men because the study which secured the latter necessarily shut them out of the publicity chich taught the former. He very quietly replied that there was a way by which the recluse in his study might acquire a correct knowledge of nature; by the study of his Bible and his own heart. I have no doubt that this remark gave the key to his own character as concerned this trait of it. There was a remarkable absence of egotism and dogmatism for one who must have been conscious of powers and acquirements and who had been so much complimented and applanded. This unhappily for me, happily for him, was my last interview for the good man was taken away from the evil to come.” The Life of Joseph Addison Alexander By Henry Carrington Alexander, pp. 798-99.

Southern Presbyterian Virtual Library

August 9, 2008

I suppose that the three great Southern Presbyterian Theologians may be identified as James Henley Thornwell, Robert Louis Dabney, and John Lafayette Girardeau. I have attempted to provide below as complete a virtual library of their works as can be accessed as complete works for free. Obviously, there are fragments from these men scattered in numerous other places on the Internet, and there are additional reprintings of their works that are available at a cost. If any of my readers happens to know of links to additional free, electronic copies of the works of any of these gentlemen, please let me know.

James Henley Thornwell

Robert Louis Dabney

John Lafayette Girardeau

To the glory of God,

-TurretinFan

Dabney Recommends for Sermon Preparation …

April 27, 2008

[After deducing the question from the text to be preached upon,] I proceed to study authorities, as time allows: first the Holy Scriptures, and then the soundest treatises, such as those of Turrettin and Owen. As I read I keep pencil and paper by me, and jot down everything which strikes me as possibly a point for the argument. I read on until I find from the recurrence of ideas already gathered, that I have apparently explored the whole field of discussion, at least in all its important outlines.

R. L. Dabney, Sacred Rhetoric, p. 226 (source)

Dabney’s advice to young preachers may surprise some of our opponents on Atonement-related issues. Of course, the fact that Dabney thinks Turretin and Owen to be the soundest of the treatises, does not mean that agrees with them 100% on every point, and no one should draw such an improper inference. In fact, on the Atonement, Dabney does not seem to find all of Turretin’s argument persuasive, as we hope to explore in another post at a later date.

-TurretinFan

Further Response from Trey

April 17, 2008

Trey has (I think) clarified that he does not want to come down on the matter of the Atonement one way or another.

“There are lots of folks who don’t want to come down on the matter one way or another. R. L. Dabney was one of those. David Ponter is also one. But like Dabney, while not taking a side on the issue, i see Ponter’s views as aligning most closely with Infralapsarianism, not with Amyraldism.”

I disagree with Trey, but there you have it. I see Dabney’s views coming down pretty clearly on the “strict” Limited Atonement side, and I see Ponter’s view coming down to the Amyraldian side of Dabney’s views.

Trey also seems to suggest that somehow there is confusion being made between Infralapsarian and Amyraldian. I am familiar with both categories, and I don’t see the connection that is being made.

This matter, however, has generated more heat than light on the matter, so I don’t have further comments on Trey’s further remarks at this time.

-TurretinFan

The Deleterious Effect of Particularist/Universalist Propoganda

February 3, 2008

I stumbled across this shocking quotation: “Amazingly, Dabney, Charles Hodge, and William Shedd all distance themselves from theologians like Francis Turretin on the relationship between the decree of God and the cross of Christ, and even go so far as to explicitly reject key exegesis that underlies the “limited atonement” argument found in John Owen’s The Death of Death.” (source)

This is just not true.

I’ve commented on the harmony between TurretinFan’s views and the views of Dabney (link), Hodge (both A.A. and Charles), and Shedd (link) on the subject of the atonement.

If that were enough, we can see that each of the men in question rely on Turretin in their teaching on atonement:

Shedd (Dogmatic Theology, p. 481)

Dabney (Chapter 35 of his Systematic Theology)

Hodge (Systematic Theology, p. 474) (And of course, Hodge is famous for insisting that his students read Turretin (as recalled by his son))

I can guess where Ben got the idea: from one of several misinformation sites out there: “Calvin and Calvinism” “Theological Meditations” and the like, at which Amyraldian and Amyraldian-esque men pretend that Calvinism is something other than what it is, at the expense of the truth.

I hope Ben will consider actually getting a copy of Turretin’s Institutes and reading it, or of any of the systematic theologies of Shedd, Dabney, or Hodge. He seems to be a bright young man who has just grabbed a few wrong sources. I’ll be looking forward to watching him blossom.

Remember that there is a lot of false advertising (link1, link2) out there.

May God assist us in maintaining the truth!

-Turretinfan

UPDATE: Oddly, I’ve seen what seems to be the exact same article in several other places. Perhaps Ben is not the author after all. (link) (link2)

What Dabney and I Believe about the Atonement

January 10, 2008

R. L. Dabney writes:

If you were a soldier and had not deserted the colors of your country, an accepted substitute would free you from all service and punishment. You are guilty of desertion toward God, and are also bound to pay a service to which sin utterly disables you through your own folly and fault. From these obligations Christ frees you, but it is only to bind you to His service more firmly by love. Now you should follow the Captain of your salvation with all your might, longing to follow Him better, not from fear of being shot for desertion (that danger is gone if Christ died for us), nor from fear of losing emoluments (they are already earned for us by our Substitute, and paid in advance to true believers), but because He asks us to follow Him. And now, if we love Him, we would die for Him were it necessary, because He died for us. If we do not love Him, it is proof that He never became our Substitute. “Now are ye My friends, if ye do what-soever I command you.” John xv.14.

(see the entire tract here)

-Turretinfan


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