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Christina and Mercy Meet the Interpreter

 

All the passages below are taken from John Bunyan’s book, “Pilgrim’s Progress.” It was first published in 1678. The present book is a complete and unabridged edition translated from the original 17th century text and further annotated into modern English by L. Edward Hazelbaker and published in 1998. This is the easiest and clearest translation to read and understand.

 

A GARDEN WAS ON the other side of the Wall that fenced in the path up which Christiana and her companions were to go. The garden belonged to him who owned the barking dog, which was mentioned before. Some of the fruit trees that grew in the garden shot their branches over the Wall; and, the fruit being ripe, they who found them often gathered them and ate from the trees to their harm.

So Christiana's boys (as boys are apt to do), being pleased with the trees and the fruit that hung from them, jumped up and grabbed the branches. They bent them down and began to eat. Their mother rebuked them for doing so, but the boys still went on.

"Well," said Christiana, "you transgress, for none of that fruit is ours." But she did not know that they belonged to the enemy. If she had, I will assure you she would have been ready to die for fear. But that passed, and they went on their way.

When they had gone about two bowshots from the place that had let them into the Way, they saw two very rough-looking individuals coming down quickly toward them. With that, Christiana and Mercy, her friend, covered themselves with their veils and continued on their journey. The children also went on ahead of them, but at last they met together.

Then they who came down toward them came right up to the women as if they would embrace them, but Christiana said, "Stand back or go peaceably by as you should."

Yet these two, as men who are deaf, did not regard Christiana's words but began to lay hands on them. At that, becoming very angry, Christiana began kicking at them with her feet. Mercy also, as well as she was able, did what she could to budge them.

Christiana again said to them, "Stand back and be gone, for we have no money to lose. We're Pilgrims, as you see, and such also who live upon the charity of our friends."

Then one of the two men said, "We're not assaulting you for money but have come out to tell you that if you'll grant one small request, which we'll ask, we will make women of you forever."

Now, imagining what they meant, Christiana said again, "We'll neither hear nor regard nor yield to what you'll ask. We're in a hurry and can't stay. Our business is a business of life and death."

Again, she and her companions made a fresh attempt to go past them, but they hindered them in their way.1

And they said, "We intend no harm to your lives. It's another thing we want."

"Yes," said Christiana, "you want us body and soul, for I know it's for that purpose you've come. But we'd rather die on the spot than allow ourselves to be brought into such snares as shall endanger our well-being hereafter."

And with that, they both screamed and cried, "Murder! Murder!" and put themselves under those laws which are provided for the protection of women.2 But the men still made their approach upon them, intending to prevail against them. Therefore, they cried out again.

Now being, as I said, not far from the Gate through which they had come, their voices were heard there from where they were. So, some individuals of the House came out and, knowing it was Christiana's voice, made haste to relieve her.3 By the time they got within sight of them, the women were in a very great scuffle; the children also stood crying nearby.

Then he who came to help them called out to the ruffians, "What are you doing? Would you make my Lord's people to transgress?"4 He also attempted to take them, but they made their escape over the Wall and into the garden of the man to whom the great dog belonged. So, the dog became their protector.5

This Reliever then came up to the women and asked them how they were.

So the women answered, "We thank your Prince quite sincerely, but we've been somewhat frightened. We also thank you for coming to our help, for otherwise we would've been overcome."

After a few more words, the Reliever said, "When you were entertained at the Gate above, I was amazed---seeing you knew you were weak---that you didn't ask the Lord there for a Guide. Then you might have avoided these troubles and dangers, for He would have granted you one."

"Alas," exclaimed Christiana, "we were so involved with our present blessing that we forgot the dangers to come.6 Besides, who could've thought that such naughty individuals would be lurking so near the King's palace? Indeed, it would've been good for us if we had asked our Lord for a Guide; but since our Lord knew it would be for our profit, I wonder why He didn't send one along with us."

"It's not always necessary to grant things not asked for,"7 explained the Reliever, "lest by doing so, they become of little value. But when the desire of a thing is felt, it then comes to be valued properly as it is worth in the eyes of the person who feels it, and who will consequently thereafter use it. Neither---had my Lord granted you a Guide---would you have so lamented your oversight in not asking for one, as you now have opportunity to do. So all things work for good and tend to make you more careful."8

"Should we go back again to my Lord, confess our folly, and ask for one?" questioned Christiana.

The Reliever answered, "I'll present Him with your confession of folly. You need not go back again, for in all the places where you go, you'll find no lack at all. For in every one of my Lord's lodgings, which He has prepared for the reception of His Pilgrims, there are sufficient things there to equip them with everything they need for avoiding any and all temptations to go back. But as I said, He will be asked of them to do it for them,9 and it is a worthless thing that is not worth asking for."

After he had said these things, he went back to his place, and the Pilgrims went on their way.

Then Mercy said, "What a surprise this is. I'd reasoned that we had gotten past all danger and that we should never sorrow any more."

"Your innocence, my Sister, may well excuse you," said Christiana to Mercy, "but as for me, my fault is so much greater in that I saw this danger before I came out of the doors and yet didn't provide for it where provision might have been obtained. Therefore, I'm much to be blamed."

"How did you know this before you came from home?" asked Mercy. "Please, open to me this riddle?"

"Why, I'll tell you," answered Christiana. "Before I set foot out of doors, one night as I lay in my bed I had a dream about this. I thought I saw two men who as sure as the world looked like these. They stood at the foot of my bed, plotting how they might prevent my salvation. I'll tell you their very words: They said---it was when I was in my troubles---'What shall we do with this woman? For she cries out for forgiveness when awake and asleep. If she's allowed to go on like this, we'll lose her as we've lost her husband.' You know this might have made me take heed and have provided when provision might have been obtained."

"Well," said Mercy, "through this neglect we have an opportunity ministered unto us to see our own imperfections. So our Lord has taken the opportunity to manifest the Riches of His Grace through it. As we see, He has accompanied us with kindness not asked for, and out of His mere good pleasure He has delivered us from the hands of those who were stronger than we."

When they had talked away a little more time, they came close to a house that stood in the Way. This house was built for the relief of Pilgrims (as you will find more fully related in the first part of these records of The Pilgrim's Progress.) They drew closer to the House (of the Interpreter), and when they came to the door, they heard a great discussion inside. Listening, they thought they heard Christiana mentioned by name, for you must know that word of her and her children's travel on Pilgrimage went before her. This thing was even more pleasing to those inside because they had heard she was Christian's wife, that woman who some time ago was so unwilling to hear of going on Pilgrimage.

They stood still, therefore, and heard the good people within the house commending her whom they didn't consider would be standing at the door. At last, Christiana knocked as she had done at the Gate before. Now when she had knocked, a young girl came to the door, opened it, and looked; and there, two women were standing.

The girl asked them, "With whom would you speak in this place?"

Christiana answered, "We understand this is a privileged place for those who've become Pilgrims. We who are at this door are such, so we ask that we may be sharers of that for which we at this time have come. As you see, it's very late in the day, and we hate to go any farther tonight."

Then the girl asked, "Please, what may I call your name so I can tell it to my master inside?"

"My name is Christiana," she said. "I was the wife of that Pilgrim who some years ago traveled this way, and these are his four children. This girl is also my companion and is going on Pilgrimage, too."

Then Innocent, for that was her name, ran in and said to those inside, "Can you imagine who is at the door? Christiana and her children and companion are there, all waiting for acceptance here."

They leaped for joy and went and told the head of the house. So he came to the door, and looking upon her asked, "Are you that Christiana whom the good man Christian left behind him when he applied himself to a Pilgrim's life?"

Christiana answered, "I'm the woman who was so hardhearted as to slight my husband's troubles and who allowed him to go on his journey alone, and these are his four children. Now I've come also, for I'm convinced that no way is right but this one."

The Interpreter then said to her, "Then that is fulfilled which is written of the man who said to his son, `Go and work today in the vineyard.'10 And he said to his father, `I will not, but later he changed his mind and went.’"11

Then Christiana said, "So be it, Amen. May God make it a true saying for me and grant that I may be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him."12

"But why are you standing like this at the door?" asked the Interpreter. "Come in, you Daughter of Abraham. We were just now talking about you, for word had come to us how you had become a Pilgrim. Come, Children, come in! Come, Young Lady, come in!"

So he brought them all into the house, and when they were inside he invited them to sit down and rest themselves. When they had done that, those who waited upon the Pilgrims in the house came into the room to see them. One smiled, and another smiled, and they all smiled for joy that Christiana had become a Pilgrim.13 They also looked upon the boys and stroked their faces with their hands in token of their kind reception of them. They also lovingly received Mercy and welcomed them all into their Master's house.

After a while, because supper was not ready, the Interpreter took them into his significant rooms and showed them what Christian, Christiana's husband, had seen some time before. Here, therefore, they saw the man in the cage, the man and his dream, the man who cut his way through his enemies, and the picture of the biggest of them all, together with the rest of those things that were then so profitable to Christian.

This done, and after these things had been somewhat digested by Christiana and her group, the Interpreter took them aside again and led them first into a room where there was a man who could look no way but downwards and who had a muckrake in his hand.14 Another individual stood over his head with a celestial crown in his hand and offered to trade him the crown for his muckrake, but the man neither looked up nor regarded it, but raked to himself the straw, the small sticks, and dust of the floor.

Then Christiana said, "I'm persuaded that I know something of the meaning of this, for this is a figure of a man of this world, is it not, Good Sir?"

"You've said it rightly," said the Interpreter, "and his muckrake shows his sinful mind. And in that you see him rather paying attention to raking up straw, sticks, and the dust of the floor rather than to what He who calls to him from above says, it is to show that Heaven is only like a fable to some and that things here are accounted the only things substantial. Now, in that it was also showed you that the man could look no way but downwards, it is to let you know that when they are with power upon men's minds, earthly things quite carry their hearts away from God."

Then Christiana said, "Oh, deliver me from this muckrake!"

"The prayer, `Give me neither poverty nor riches,’"15 said the Interpreter, "has been laid aside until it's almost rusty. It's the prayer of scarcely one in ten thousand. Straw, sticks, and dust are considered by most to be the great things to be sought after."

With that, Mercy and Christiana wept and said, "It is, alas, too true!"

When the Interpreter had showed them this, he took them into the very best room in the house. A very fine room it was! So he asked them to look around and see if they could find anything profitable there. They looked around and around, for there was nothing to be seen except for a very large spider on the wall, which they overlooked.

Then Mercy said, "Sir, I see nothing." But Christiana remained silent.

"But," said the Interpreter, "look again."

Mercy looked again therefore and said, "There is nothing here except an ugly spider who hangs by its hands upon the wall."

"Is there only one spider in all this spacious room?" questioned the Interpreter.

Then tears formed in Christiana's eyes, for she was a woman quick of apprehension. She said, "Yes, Sir, there are more than one here. Yes, and spiders whose venom is far more destructive than that one."

The Interpreter then looked pleasantly upon her and said, "You've said the truth."

This made Mercy blush and the boys to cover their faces, for they all began now to understand the riddle.

Then the Interpreter said again, "As you see, `the spider takes hold with her hands, and is in the king's palaces.’16 And for what reason is this recorded but to show you that no matter how full you may be of the venom of sin, yet you may, by the hand of faith, lay hold of and dwell in the best room which belongs to the King's House above."

"I thought of something like this," said Christiana, "but I couldn't imagine it all. I thought that we were like spiders, and that we looked like ugly creatures in whatever fine room we were. But it didn't cross my mind that by this spider---this venomous and ugly-looking creature---we were to learn how to display faith. And yet, as I see, it has taken hold with its hands and dwells in the best room in the house. God has made nothing in vain."

Then they all seemed to be glad, but tears stood in their eyes. They looked upon one another and also bowed before the Interpreter. He then took them into another room where a hen and chicks were, and he asked them to observe for a while. So one of the chicks went to the trough to drink; and every time it drank, it lifted up its head and eyes towards Heaven.

"Watch what this little chick does," said the Interpreter, "and learn through it to acknowledge where your mercies come from by receiving them with looking up." And again he said, "Observe and look."

So they gave heed and perceived that the hen walked in a fourfold manner towards her chicks: First---she had a common call, and she had it all day long. Second---she had a special call, and she had it only occasionally. Third---she had a brooding sound. And Fourth---she had an outcry.

"Now," said the Interpreter, "compare this hen to your King, and these chicks to His obedient ones. In like manner as she, He himself has His methods through which He approaches His people: By His common call He gives nothing; by His special call He always has something to give; He also has a brooding voice for them who are under His wing; and He has an outcry to give the alarm when He sees the enemy come.17 I choose, my Dear Ones, to lead you into the room where such things are because you are women, and they are easy for you."

"And sir," said Christiana, "please let us see some more."

So he led them into the Slaughter House where a butcher was killing a sheep, and the sheep was quiet, taking its death patiently.

The Interpreter said, "You must learn from this sheep to suffer and to put up with wrongs without murmurings and complaints. See how quietly it takes its death, and how without objection it allows its skin to be pulled over its ears? Your King calls you His Sheep.”18

After this, he led them into his garden, where there was a great variety of flowers. And he asked, "Do you see all these?"

Christiana answered, "Yes."

Then the Interpreter said again, "See, the flowers are different in stature, quality, color, fragrance, and virtue; and some are better than others. Also, they stand where the gardener has set them, and they don't quarrel with one another."19

Again, he led them into his field, which he had sown with wheat and corn. But when they looked, the tops of all of it were cut off, and only the straw remained.

"This ground was fertilized, plowed, and sown," said the Interpreter, "but what shall we do with the crop?"

"Burn some of it," answered Christiana, "and make compost of the rest."

Then the Interpreter said, "You see, fruit is the thing you look for, and for lack of that you condemn it to the fire or to be trodden under foot by men. Beware that in this you don't condemn yourselves.”20

Then as they were coming in from outside, they spied a little robin with a large spider in its mouth. So the Interpreter said, "Look here."

They looked, and Mercy wondered; but Christiana said, "What a disparagement it is to such a pretty little bird like the Robin-red-breast, being also a bird above many, who loves to maintain a kind of sociableness with man. I had thought they lived upon crumbs of bread or upon other such harmless matter. I don't like him as much as I did."

The Interpreter then replied, "This robin is an emblem very suited to be likened to some professors of faith. For, like this robin, they are by sight pretty of note, color, and carriage. They seem also to have a very great love for professors who are sincere, and above all others appear to desire to associate with them and to be in their company, as if they could live upon the good man's crumbs. Therefore, they're also pretenders in that they frequent the house of the godly and the appointments of the Lord, but when they're by themselves they can catch and gobble up spiders like the robin. They can change their diet, drink iniquity, and swallow down sin like water."

When they had entered again into the house, and because supper was not as yet ready, Christiana again desired that the Interpreter would either show or tell of some other profitable things.21

Then the Interpreter began to teach proverbs, and said:

"The fatter the sow is, the more she desires the mire; the fatter the ox is, the more playfully he goes to the slaughter; and the more healthy the lusty man is, the more prone he is to evil.

"There is a desire in women to dress neatly and finely,  and it is an attractive thing to be adorned with that which in God's sight is of great price.

"It's easier staying awake a night or two than to sit up a whole year at a time. So, it's easier for a person to begin to profess well than to hold out, as one should, to the end.

"When in a storm, every ship's captain will willingly cast overboard that which is of the least value in the vessel; but who will throw the best out first?---none but he who doesn't fear God.

"One leak will sink a ship, and one sin will destroy a sinner.

"He who forgets his friend is ungrateful to him, but he who forgets his Savior is unmerciful to himself.

"He who lives in sin and looks for happiness thereafter is like him who sows cockleburs and thinks to fill his barn with wheat or barley.22

"If a man intends to live well, let him fetch his last day to himself and make it always his companion.

"Whispering and change of mind prove that sin is in the world.

"If the world, which God accounts as less significant, is considered by people to be a thing of worth, how is Heaven considered, which is commended by God?

"If we so hate to let go of the life that is accompanied with so many troubles, what is our feeling for the life above?

"Everyone will cry out and commend the goodness of people, but who is there who will, as one should, be so affected with the goodness of God?

"We seldom sit down to eat food that we don't eat and leave some. So in Jesus Christ there is more merit and righteousness than the whole world has need of."

When the Interpreter was done, he took them out into his garden again and led them to a tree whose inside was all rotten and gone, and yet it grew and had leaves.

Then Mercy asked, "What does this mean?"

"This tree whose outside is fair and whose inside is rotten," said the Interpreter, "is that to which may be compared many who are in the Garden of God---those who with their mouths speak well in behalf of God but indeed who will do nothing for Him, and those whose leaves are fair but whose hearts are good for nothing but to be tinder for the devil's tinderbox.”23

Then supper was ready, the table was spread, and all things were set on the dining table. So, after one had given thanks, they sat down and ate. The Interpreter usually entertained those who lodged with him with music at meals, so the musicians played. There was also one who sang with a very fine voice.

His song was this:

 

The Lord is only my support,

And he that does me feed;

How can I then want any thing

Whereof I stand in Need?

 

When the song and music had ended, the interpreter asked Christiana what it was that at first caused her to thus take upon herself a Pilgrim's life.

"First," answered Christiana, "the loss of my husband came into my mind, at which I was truly grieved. But all that was based on natural affection. Then after that, the troubles and Pilgrimage of my husband came into my mind, and also how, like a rascal, I had treated him about it. So guilt took hold of my mind and would have drawn me into the pond, but opportunely I had a dream of the well-being of my husband. Also, I received a letter sent to me from the King of that country where my husband lives, a letter inviting me to come to Him. The dream and the letter together so worked on my mind that they forced me to this way."

"Didn't you meet with any opposition before you set out of doors?" inquired the Interpreter.

"Yes," answered Christiana, "from a neighbor of mine, Mrs. Fearful. She was related to him who would have persuaded my husband to go back for fear of the lions. She ridiculed me for---as she called it---my intended desperate adventure. She also did what she could to discourage me from it by talking of the hardship and troubles my husband met with in the Way. I got over all this pretty well, but I had a dream of two bad looking fellows who I thought plotted how to make me unsuccessful in my journey. That troubled me a great deal. It still runs in my mind and makes me afraid of everyone I meet, lest they should meet me to do me harm and turn me out of the Way. Yes, I may tell you, Sir---although I wouldn't want everybody to know it---that between here and the Gate through which we got into the Way, we were both so sorely assaulted that we were made to cry out `Murder!' And the two who made this assault upon us were like the two whom I saw in my dream."

Then the Interpreter said, "Your beginning is good. Your latter end shall greatly increase."24 He then addressed himself to Mercy and asked her, "And what moved you to come here, Sweetheart?"

Mercy blushed, trembled, and continued silent for a while.

Then the Interpreter said, "Don't be afraid, just believe25 and speak your mind."

So Mercy began, saying, "Truly, Sir, my lack of experience is what makes me desire to remain silent and also fills me with fears of coming up short at last. I can't tell of visions and dreams, as my friend Christiana can; nor do I know what it is to mourn for my refusing the counsel of those who were good relations."

"What was it, then, Dear Heart, that convinced you to do as you've done?" asked the Interpreter.

"Why," said Mercy, "when our friend here was packing up to leave our town, I and another went to see her for a casual visit. We knocked at her door and went in. When we were inside and saw what she was doing, we asked what her meaning was. She said she was sent for, to go to her husband; and then she up and told us how in a dream she had seen him living in a curious place among Immortals, wearing a crown, playing upon a harp, eating and drinking at his Prince's table, and singing praises to Him for bringing him there. While she was telling these things to us, I thought my heart burned within me, and I said in my heart, `If this is true, I'll leave my father and my mother, and the land of my birth, and will---if I may---go along with Christiana."'

"So," continued Mercy, "I asked her further about the truth of these things and if she'd let me go with her, for I saw there was no longer in our town any dwelling that wasn't in danger of ruin. But I still came away with a heavy heart, not because I was unwilling to leave but because so many of my relatives were left behind. I've come with all the desire of my heart, and, if I may, I'll go with Christiana unto her husband and his King."

Then the Interpreter said, "Your leaving is good, for you've given credit to the truth. You're a Ruth, who for the love she had for Naomi and the Lord her God left father, mother, and the land of her birth to leave and go with a people whom she didn't know before.26 `May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.' Ruth two, twelve."

Now supper was over, and preparations were made for bed. The women were lodged singly alone and the boys by themselves. When Mercy was in bed, she could not sleep because of her joy, for now her doubts of finally missing out were removed farther from her than ever before. So she lay blessing and praising God, who had such favor for her.

In the morning they arose with the sun and prepared themselves for their departure, but the Interpreter wanted them to tarry awhile, "For," he said, "you must go from here orderly." Then he said to the girl who first opened the door to them, "Take them into the garden to the Bath and wash them there. Make them clean from the soil which they've gathered by traveling."

Then Innocent, the girl, took them, led them into the garden, and brought them to the Bath.27 So she told them they must wash there and be clean, for that is what her master would have the women who called at his house to do as they were going on Pilgrimage. Then they went in and washed---yes, they and the boys and all---and they came out of that bath not only sweet and clean but also much enlivened and strengthened in their joints. So when they came in the house, they looked a deal fairer than when they went out to the washing.

When they had returned out of the garden from the Bath, the Interpreter took them, looked at them, and said, "Fair as the moon."28 Then he called for the Seal which was used for sealing those who were washed in his bath. So the Seal was brought, and he set His mark upon them that they might be known in the places where they were yet to go. Now the Seal was the content and sum of the Passover, which the Children of Israel ate when they came out from the land of Egypt. This mark was set between their eyes.29 The Seal added greatly to their beauty, for it was an ornament to their faces. It also added to their seriousness and made their countenance more like that of angels.

Then the Interpreter said again to the girl who waited upon these women, "Go into the vestry30 and fetch out garments for these people."

So she went and got out white clothing and laid it down before him, and he commanded them to put it on. It was `fine linen, white and clean.’31 When the women were thus adorned, they seemed to be a terror to one another, for they each could not see on themselves the glory which they could see on the other. They began, therefore, to esteem each other better than themselves.32 "You are fairer than I am," said one; "And you are more lovely than I am," said the other. The children also stood amazed to see into what form they were brought.

The Interpreter then called for a manservant of his, one called Great Heart, and told him, "Take Sword, Helmet, and Shield; and take these, my daughters, and guide them to the house called Beautiful, where they will next rest."

So, Great Heart took his weapons and went before them, and the Interpreter said, "God speed!" Those also who belonged to the Family sent them away with many good wishes.

So they went on their way, singing:

 

This place has been our second stage,

Here we have heard, and seen

Those good things, that from Age to Age

To others hid have been.

 

The Dunghill-raker, Spider, Hen,

The Chicken too, to me, 

Has taught a lesson, let me then 

Conformed to it be.

 

The Butcher, Garden, and the Field,   

The Robin, and his bait,

Also the rotten Tree does yield  

Me argument of weight;  

 

To move me for to Watch and Pray,

To strive to be sincere;

To take my Cross up day by day,  

And serve the Lord with fear.

                                      (251-268)

 

 NOTES   

1. Genesis 24:56  

2. Deuteronomy 22:23-27.         

3. 'Tis good to cry out when we are assaulted. 

4. 1 Samuel 2:24 (KJV).

5. The ill ones fly to the Devil for relief. The dog barked   at those with the best of intentions but became the protector of those with the worst.       

6. Mark this

7. Matthew 21:22; John 16:24; James 4:2-3; also 1 John 3:21-22

8. Romans 8:28.

9. Ezekiel 36:37.

10. Matthew 21:28.

11. Matthew 21:29.

12. 2 Peter 3:14.

13. Old Saints glad to see the young ones walk in God's ways.

14. A muckrake is a rake used for moving heavy, moist, earth, most usually mixed with manure.

15. Proverbs 30:8.

16. Proverbs 30:28 (KJV).

17. Matthew 23:37.

18. Romans 8:36; Psalm 79:13, 100:3; Jeremiah 23:1; Ezekiel 34:1 1-12; Matthew 10:16; John 10:1-29, 21:16:   Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32.

19. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, 6:1-11.

20. Matthew 21:18-19; Luke 13:6-9, also John 15:1-8.

21. Pray, and you will get at that which yet lies    unrevealed.

22. Galatians 6:7-8.

23. Tinder is a readily combustible material. A tinderbox is a box in which to store tinder and the flint and steel to use for producing a spark.

24. Job 8:7

25. Mark 5:36

26. Ruth 2:11

27. The bath of sanctification

28. Song of Songs 6:10.

29. Exodus 13:8-10; Revelation 7:2-3.

30. A vestry is a room in a church where robes are kept.

31. Revelation 19:14. Revelation 19:8.

32. Philippians 2:3.

 

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