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Bible Commentaries
John 4

Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NTBurkitt's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

The former part of this chapter accquaints us with our Saviour's removal from Judea into Galilee. The occasion of it was this: Christ hearing that John was cast into prison, and understanding how the Pharisees were enraged at the increasing of the number of disciples; to decline their fury, and prevent danger to himself, he leaves Judea, and departs into Galilee for his own preservation.

Hence learn, That when the faithful ministers of Christ do meet with eminent success in their Masters service, they must expect to meet with a mighty shock of malice and envy from Satan and his wicked instruments. Christ himself experienced it, and prepare for it.

That it is neither unlawful nor unbecoming for the ministers of Christ to flee when prosecution threatens them; their Lord and Master having fled before them: commanded also, When they prosecute you in one city, to flee another.

Verse 4

Here observe, 1. How wonderfully the wisdom of God overrules the malice of men for his own glory, and the good of others. The malice of the Pharisees in Judea drives Christ into Galilee, and in his passage through Samaria, the first fruits of the Gentiles are called, and particularly the woman of Samaria.

Observe, 2. How in every step of Christ's way he was doing good to the souls of men. In his passage through Samaria into Galilee, a poor woman is brought to know him to be the true Messias.

Observe, 3. Our holy Lord, in his journeying from place to place, did travel usually on foot; and the weakness of his body, upon travelling, shews him to truly and really man, and in all things like unto us, sin only excepted.

Our blessed Lord did not only take upon him our nature, but the infirmities of our nature also.

Verse 7

Observe here, 1. How all our motions and actions are under the direction and Government of God, and how divine providence doth sometimes dispose of small matters to become occassions of great good. This poor woman's coming to the well to draw water, became the means of her conversion.

Observe, 2. Christ speaks to, and seeks after this poor woman, before she takes any notice of him; God is found of that seek him not, and makes himself manifest to them that enquire not after him. Jesus said unto her, Give me to drink.

Observe, 3. The great poverty of our Lord's outward condition, he wanted a draught of water for his refreshment, and a meal's meat now at dinner-time, to refresh his wearied nature.

Oh! what a contempt did Christ cast upon the world when he was here in it! He would not honour it so far as to keep any part of it in his own hand.

Yet observe, 4. That though Christ had neither house nor land, nor money of his own, yet he lived not by begging, or upon mere alms. The disciples were now gone into the city to buy, not to beg meat: for there was a bag which required a bearer, John 12:6 And our Saviour's friends and followers supplied him with money for his necessary occasions: His disciples were gone to buy bread,

Observe lastly, How bitter is the enmity which differences in religion, and diversities of opinions do occasion; they do not only alienate affections, but even violate the bonds of civil society and common conversation. The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans; would neither eat nor drink with them.

Verse 10

The Samaritan woman had refused Christ a draught of water in the former verse, he offers her the water of life in this verse. O! how kindly doth Christ deal with those that dealt unkindly with him! If thou knowest the gift of God, &e.

Here observe, 1. The mercy which Christ had for, and was so desirous to bestow upon, this poor woman: it was the gift of God; that is, himself, his Holy Spirit, in the sanctifying gifts, and saving graces of it. All which are compared to water, in regard of their effects and operations, which are to purify the unclean , and to satisfy the thirsty.

Observe, 2. The way and course which this woman and every lost sinner ought to take, in order to the obtaining of this inestimable gift; and that it is by asking it, Thou wouldst have asked, and he would have given thee living water.

Learn hence, That Christ himself, his Holy Spirit; with all the sanctifying graces of it, must be earnestly sought of God, and such as do unfeignedly seek them, shall certainly obtain them.

Observe, 3. The true cause and reason assigned, why sinners ask not for, and seek not after, Jesus Christ, and the graces of the Holy Spirit; and that is ignorance of the worth of Christ, and insensibleness of the want of him, that makes persons so indifferent in their desires after him, and so remiss in their endeavours for the obtaining of him.

Oh sinners! did you but know who and what Christ is, that is offered to you, did you but see his beauty, fulness, and suitableness, and were you but sensible of the worth and want of him, all the world could not keep you from him; you would break through all difficulities and dangers through all sufferings and reproaches, to come unto the enjoyment of him!

Verse 11

Observe here, 1. How ignorant persons are of spiritual things, till enlightened by the Holy Spirit of God. This poor woman's question, Whence hast thou that living water? looks much like that of Nicodemus, How can these things be? John 3:9 A natural person cannot perceive the mind of Christ when speaking to him about spiritual things. Spiritual objects must have a spiritual eye to discern and behold them, The natural man perceiveth not the things of the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:14

Observe, 2. With what great humility and condescension our holy Lord treats this poor woman, pitying her ignorance, and pardoning her infidelity; he tells her, That the water of that well which she was about to draw, could not give an abiding satisfaction; but the thirst quenched for the present, would certainly return again: but he that should drink of the water which he had to give, that is, be made partakers of the graces of the Spirit, shall find such refreshing satisfaction there from, that all inordinate desires after earthly things will be quenched and extinguished, and will be like a well of water springing up, till he come to eternal glory.

Learn hence, 1. That as the body of man is subject to a natural, so is the soul of man subject to a spiritual, kind of thirst.

2. That no creature comfort, or earthly enjoyment, can quench this thirst which the soul of man is subject unto.

3. That the Spirit of grace (which our Saviour here calls the water of life) is able fully and perfectly to quench the thirst of the soul: and where it is once savingly received, shall never be totally or finally lost. It shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life; that is, the graces of the Spirit shall be in believers as permanent habits, as fixed principles that shall not decay.

Hence St. Peter calls it incorruptible seed, which liveth and abideth for ever, 1 Peter 1:23

Verse 15

These words set forth unto us, 1.What manner of person this woman was, whose conversion Christ sought so industriously after.

2. The means he used in order to that end.

Observe, 1. What manner of person this woman was; besides that she was an idolater, as being a Samaritan, she was also an adultress, and lived now in the sin of uncleanness with one that was not her husband, after she had five husbands before.

Whence we learn, That the ice of old age will not quench the fire of lust, concupiscentia non senescit: such is the pollution of our nature, that lust will be insatiable, if grace doth not restrain it. This woman, after five marriages, yet lives in the sin of uncleanness.

Observe, 2. The way and manner our Lord takes, the method and means our Lord uses, in order to her conversion.

1. He deals very tenderly and gently with her; he doth not call her whore, nor upbraid her for her impudent lewdness, in living with a man that was none of her husbands, but only gives her to understand that he knew the sin she lived in; yet this he did likewise with all imaginable privacy, whilst his disciples were away, and no body by but they two only.

Hence learn, 1. That private sins are not to be reproved publicly.

2. That, in reproving sin, all sharpness and bitterness of expression must be avoided; the pill of reproof must be wrapped up in sugar; for if they to whom it is given, taste the bitterness of gall and passion mixed with it, they will certainly spit it out before, it may be upon, our faces. Our Lord's practice here instructs us, that sin is to be so reproved, as that the credit and estimation of the sinner may be preserved as much as may be.

Note, 2. That as Christ dealt with this woman tenderly and gently, so he discovers her sin to her particularly, and sets her secret sin before the face of her conscience distinctly. If ever the ministry of the word works upon the minds of men to their conversion, it must be by a particular and close application of the word to every man's conscience: generals will not affect.

Note, 3. What the particular sin is, which Christ charges home upon the conscience of this woman: it is the sin of uncleanness, that the man she kept with, was not her husband.

Learn hence, That, amongst all sins, the sin of uncleanness will lie heaviest upon the conscience, and wound the soul most deeply, when the Spirit of God once effectually discovers it, and charges it home upon the conscience. For there is no sin so directly opposite to sanctificaton and holiness, as this sin: no sin that quenches the Holy Spirit of God like this.

Verse 19

In these verses, the Evangelist declares a three-fold effect and fruit of the grace of conversion that appeared in this woman.

1. She neither denied, nor excused, nor extenuated this sin, which Christ had charged her with, but tacitly owns, and implicitly confesses it.

2. She doth not only own and confess what she was charged with, but she doth profess reverence to our Saviour's person, and pays honour to him as an extraordinary prophet; Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.

3. She desired instruction and resolution from him concerning the worship and serivces of the true God, how she might seek him, and where she might serve him most acceptably, whether at Jerusalem, or upon Mount Gerizim? Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, but ye say Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.

Where observe, How ready and forward persons of a false religion are to ascribe too much to antiquity, and to the example and custom of their forefathers. Whereas it is not the continuance of a thousand or two thousand years, that can make any thing truly ancient in religion, except it has been from the beginning; nothing is truly ancient in matters of religion, but that which can derive its original from him, that is truly called the Ancient of days.

Verse 21

Here we have our Saviour's answer to the foregoing question, which consists of two parts.

1. Concerning the place of worship.

2. Concerning the worship itself.

As to the place of worship, our Saviour tells her, That though the Jews had heretofore by warrant of God's word regularly worshipped at Jerusalem, and the Samaritans superstitiously worshipped at mount Gerizim, yet the hour was coming, namely, at his death, when all difference of places for God's worship should be taken away, and therefore she need not trouble herself about the place of God's worship, to know whether of the two places were holier, and the better to serve God in: for ere long the service of God should not be confined more to one place than another.

Learn hence, 1. That since the death of Christ, the religious difference of places is taken away, and the worship of God not confined to any one particular place or nation.

2. Our blessed Saviour resolves her, concerning the worship itself, namely, That the ceremonial worship, which the Jews and Samaritans used, should shortly be abolished, and instead thereof a more spiritual form of worship should be established, more suitable to the spiritual nature of the great and holy God, and containing in it the truth and substance of all that which the Jewish ceremonies prefigured and shadowed forth.

Learn hence, That the true worship of God under the gospel, doth not consist in the external pomp of any outward ceremonies, but is spiritual and substantial: no worship is acceptable to him, who is the Father of Spirits, but that which is truly spiritual.

Verse 24

God is a Spirit; that is, he hath no body, nor bodily parts; he is not a bare spiritual substance: but a pure and perfect Spirit: and therefore his worshippers must worship him in spirit and in truth; where spirit is opposed to the legal ceremonies, and truth to the Jewish rites, not to hypocritical services: for the old patriarchs did worship God in spirit and in truth. As truth is taken for sincerity, they served him with a sincere conscience, and with a single heart. But our Saviour's business is to shew, that a worship without legal rites and Jewish ceremonies, is proper to the times of the gospel.

In these words, observe, 1. The nature of God declared; God is a Spirit.

2. The duty of man inferred; therefore they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.

From the whole, note, 1. That God is a pure spiritual being. When bodily parts, hands, and eyes, &c. are ascribed to him, it is only in condescension to our weakness, and to signify those acts in God, which such members do perform in us.

Note, 2. That the worship due from the creature to God is spiritual worship, and ought to be spiritually performed; that is, we must worship him from spiritual principles, sincere love, and filial reverence; for spiritual ends, that we may please him, and promote his glory; and after a spiritual manner, with the whole heart, soul, and mind, and with a fervency of spirit. We must have awful apprehensions of him, suitable to the nature of his being; but above all we must endeavour to resemble him: then is God best worshipped by us, when we are most like to him.

The Jewsish ceremonial worship was abolished, to promote the spirituality of divine worshp; yet must not this be so understood, as if God rejected bodily worship, because he requires spiritual under the gospel: for Jesus Christ, the most spiritual worshipper, worshipped God with his body. Besides, God has created the body as well as the soul; and he will glorify the body as well as the soul: therefore it is our duty to worship and glorify God with our bodies, and with our spirits, which are his.

Verse 25

Observe here, 1. What a general expectation there was in the minds of all persons (at the time of our Saviour's appearing) of one whom the Jews call the Messiah. I know that Messiah cometh. This woman, though a Samaritan, yet knew that the Messiah should come, and that he was now expected.

Observe, 2. What the work and office of the Messias was apprehended and believed to be, namely, to reveal the whole mind and will of God to a lost world: When the Messiah is come, he will tell us all things.

Learn hence, That the Lord Jesus Christ, the promised and true Messiah, being called and appointed by God to be the great Prophet of his church, hath fully and perfectly revealed all things needful to be known for our salvation, All things that I have heard of the Father, I have made known unto you. John 15:15

Observe lastly, How freely and fully Christ reveals himself to this poor woman; he tells her plainly, that he was the Messias. When the Jews asked him, If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly, John 10:24 Christ did not in plain terms tell them who he was; nay, when John Baptist sent two of his disciples to ask him, whether he were, He that should come; he gave them no direct answer: yet behold he makes himself plainly known to this poor woman; he discerning her humility and great simplicity, that she was willing to be instructed by him, and did not come to him as the Jews and Pharisees did, captiously, with a design to entangle and ensnare him.

Hence learn, That the Lord Jesus Christ delights to reveal himself, and make known his mind and will to such as with an humble mind, and an honest simplicity of heart, do desire to know him, and understand their duty to him.

Verse 27

Observe here, 1. How the providence of God so ordered and disposed of things, that the disciples did not return to Christ, till he had finished his discourse with this poor woman. An humbled sinner may meet with such satisfaction and sweet refreshment in Christ's company, that the presence even of disciples themselves (the best and holiest of saints) may be looked upon as injurious to it, and an interruption of it. This poor woman had so sweet a time with Christ, that an end being put to the conference by the coming of the disciples, might be matter of grief and resentment to her: yet the providence of God so ordered, that the disciples did not come to break off the conference till Christ had made himself known as the Messias to this poor woman.

Observe, 2. The carriage and behaviour of the disciples, upon their return to Christ: finding him preaching a sermon to a single woman, they marvelled, but yet were silent.

Learn, 1. That the humility and condescension of the Lord Jesus Christ, in treating poor penitent and humble sinners, is a matter of wonder and admiration, even to disciples themselves.

O, blessed Saviour! there was more kindness and condescension, more love and compassion, more meekness and humility in thyself alone, than in all thy disciples and followers put together.

Yet observe, 2. Though they marvelled, they were silent, No man said, Why talkest thou with her?

Thence note, That such reverence is due to Christ in all his dispensations and actions, that when we can see no reason for what he doth, it is not for us to inquire, much less for us to quarrel, but we must awfully admire what we cannot comprehend.

Observe, 3. The behaviour of this woman after the conference was over, she leaves her water-pot, and makes haste to invite and call her neighbours to Christ, whose grace and kindness she had experienced.

Learn hence, That such as truly know Christ, have tasted sweetness in him, and derived comfort and satisfaction from him, will be forward to invite, and industrious to draw, others to a saving acquaintance with him. Come with me, and see a man that told me all that ever I did: Is not this the Christ?

Learn farther, From the woman's leaving her water-pot behind her, and hastening to the city, That when once a soul has tasted the sweetness and excellency that is in Jesus Christ, those things which were highly esteemed before, will be little regarded then. The poor woman came to draw water, and thought much, and spake much, of the water of that well which was before her: but meeting with Jesus Christ, and tasting of his grace, she forgets both water and water-pot, and away she goes to fetch in all her acquaintance to Christ.

Verse 31

Observe here, The fit and seasonable motion which our Saviour's disciples make to him; Master, eat.

Learn from thence, That though a person's chief care should be for his own soul, and for improving all opportunities for doing good to the souls of others; yet the bodies of men must not be neglected, but supported by meat and drink; especially theirs, whose health and strength may be of greater use and service to God and his church. The body is the servant of the soul, the instrument whereby it worketh: and therefore to neglect the body is to disable and unfit the soul for service, to hinder the functions and operations of it. The sixth commandment, which forbids us to kill, requires us to use all means for the preservation of life, both in ourselves and others.

Observe next, Our Saviour's answer to the disciples motion; Master, eat, say they. I have meat to eat that ye know not of, says he; for my meat is to do the will of him that sent me. Not that our Saviour did not want meat at this time, for he was both hungry and thirsty, as appears by his asking water of the woman to drink, and by his sending his disciples into the city to buy meat; but our Lord was more intent upon doing his Father's work, than upon satisfying his own hunger. Christ hungered more after an opportunity of doing good to the souls of men, than he did after meat and drink to satisfy his hunger.

Lord! let us, thy ministers, learn of thee to prefer the spiritual welfare of our people, before any temporal advantages whatsoever.

Verse 35

Our blessed Saviour having, in the former verses, given a most plain and evident demonstration of his fervent desire to bring souls home to God, doth in these verses labour to stir up and kindle the like affections in his disciples; and this he doth by three very effectual arguments.

The first argument is drawn from the ripeness of the people, and their willingness to hear, and their readiness to be reaped and gathered by the gospel (whereof there was a present instance in the Samaritans, who were now coming forth in multitudes to Christ) which opportunity was therefore to be improved: Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest.

Learn hence, That as a people is sometimes ripe for the ministry of the word, as corn is ripe and ready for the reaper's hand, so it is the duty of the ministers of Christ to lay hold upon such opportunities, with as much desire and delight, as the harvest-men do upon a reaping season.

The second argument to stir up the disciples diligence in preaching the gospel, is drawn from the great reward they should receive for this their work. He that reapeth receiveth wages. The harvest-man's wages is double to what other labourers receive. The ministers of God shall receive good wages at his hand, how ill soever they are requited and rewarded by an unkind world.

And, as a farther encouragement, it follows: He that soweth, and he that reapeth, shall rejoice together; that is, the prophets who took so much pains in sowing the seed of the gospel, and particularly John the Baptist, and you my apostles which succeed them, and reap the fruit of what they did sow, shall have the same reward in glory, and rejoice together.

Learn hence, That not only the successful, but the faithful labourer, in God's harvest, shall be rewarded; not only those which see the fruit of their ministry in the conversion of sinners, but such as are faithful seedsmen. Though the seed does not come up till we are in our graves, nay, though it rots under the clods, and does not come up at all, yet shall the faithful seedsman be rewarded according to his labour, not according to his success.

The third argument to quicken the disciples diligence, is drawn frrom the easiness and facility of that labour which God required of them: Others have laboured, and ye are entered into their labours; that is, the prophets and John the Baptist have prepared the ground, and sown the seed, and made ready a people for the Lord, and now you enter into their labours, performing and gathering them into the gospel-church; yet this must not be understood absolutely, but comparatively: not as if the prophets reaped nothing, converted none: but that their fruit was small in comparison of the success which the apostles found. Nor is it to be understood as if the apostle took no pains at all, but that the prophets greater pains render the apostles labour successful, who took less pains.

Learn hence, That the wisdom of God sees it fit that all his servants in the work of the ministry do not meet with the same difficulties, nor enjoy the same success. Some are laborious sowers, others are joyful reapers; some labour all their days with little visible success, others bring in many to Christ, perhaps by a single sermon: some labour even with weariness, and reap little, others enter into their labours, and reap much.

Verse 39

Here an account is given of the conversion of more of the Samaritans from the city of Sichar. Some believed on him, upon the full report which the woman had made, That, He had told her all that ever she did; but others were brought to believe by his own word.

Now from the woman's being an instrument to bring her acquaintance to Christ by her own experience of what she had heard from him:

Learn, 1. That very weak instruments, when they employ themselves for Christ, desiring to extol his praise, and set forth his glory, are sometimes richly blessed with great success. Many of the Samaritans believed for the saying of this poor woman.

Learn, 2. That when a person can say but little of Christ, yet if it be spoken from experience and sensible feeling, it will be more successful and persuasive, than much more that which is spoken from notional knowledge. Such was this woman's testimony concerning Christ, Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; is not this the Christ? She spake what she found, yea, what she felt within herself, and speaking her own experience, many believed on him for her saying.

But farther, These Samaritans believed Christ to be a prophet upon the testimony of this woman: but they believed him afterwards to be the Messias, or the Saviour of the world, upon the credit and authority of his own word, ver, 41. And many more believed because of his own word.

Thence learn, That although instruments speaking may be a mean to draw persons to give some assent to truth, yet it is Christ himself that must work a full persuasion, and his own word is the surest foundation for faith to build and depend upon: Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard him ourselves.

Verse 43

Our blessed Saviour having spent two days with the Samaritans, as an introduction to the calling of the Gentiles, he goes forward towards Galilee, the place which he was pleased to make choice of for exercise of the greatest part of his ministry. Coming into Galilee, he passeth by the city of Nazareth, where he had had his education, knowing ordinarily having little honour in his own country; therefore shunning Nazareth, he goes to Cana, where he had done his first miracle.

Learn hence, 1. That there is a real tribute of honour due unto every prophet and minister of God, which ought to be testified by reverence to their persons, by a due estimation of the dignity of their calling, by obedience to their doctrine, and by an honourable maintenance. A prophet should have honour; and honour includes all these.

Learn, 2. It is very usual and ordinary for the prophets of God to meet with least respect where they are most known; their nearest neighbours, their nearest relations, their nearest acquaintance, are oftimes farthest off from giving them that honour that is due unto them.

Learn, 3. That the true prophets and messengers of God shall be sure to find some that will entertain their persons, and embrace their ministry, though they be disesteemed and rejected by others. Though our Saviour had no honour at Nazareth, yet he found entertainment amongst the rest of the Galileans.

Verse 46

In this last paragraph of the chapter, we find our blessed Saviour performing a second miracle in Cana of Galilee, curing a nobleman's son that was sick of a fever. This nobleman apprehended Christ to be a prophet, and believed that if he were bodily present with his son, he might possibly cure him: but he did not believe him to be the Messias, who was true God, and every where present; therefore to give him infallible proof that he was so, he tells him his son was cured by the word of his mouth, even at that distance. By which miracle he cured not only the child of his fever, but the father of his unbelief.

From the whole, we note, 1. The person that here applies himself to Christ; a nobleman. We do not find Christ oft attended with nobility. Have any of the rulers believed on him? Yes; here is one: the sovereign grace of God is free: and he has his numbers among all orders, ranks, and degrees, of men. And though not many nobles are called, yet some are.

Note, 2. The calamity which befell this noble person, his son was sick; yea, dying. Earthly greatness is no defence against afflictions; great men are in trouble as other men; neither the wealth and riches of this nobleman, nor his power and authoriy, nor his honour in his country, nor his favour with his prince, could keep off God's hand either from himself or from his son; but the father feels as much by sympathy, as the child by sense.

Note, 3. The cause and special occasion, which brought this nobleman to Christ; it was in general, an affliction; and in particular, the sickness of his child.

Learn hence, That great is the fruit and profit of afflictions to the children of men. Many, with this nobleman, never come to Christ till they be driven by the cross; and particularly, God sanctifies the sickness and death of near and dear relations, (children in special) to bring persons nearer to himself.

Note, 4. This nobleman was neither faithless nor faithful: had he been quite faithless, he had not taken such pains to come to Christ: had he been faithful, he had not limited the Son of God, by saying, Come down and heal my son ere he die. Come down, as if Christ could not have cured him absent; ere my son die, as if the same power required to heal him being sick, could not raise him being dead. Lord heal my son, had been a proper suit to him who was the great Physician: but Come down, and heal him; was to teach Christ how to work. He who doth whatsoever he will, must do it how he will, and when he will. It is for us to crave and receive, not to prescribe and appoint.

Note, 5. The meekness and great condescending goodness of Jesus Christ; notwithstanding the infirmity of this poor man, our Lord says, Go thy way, thy son liveth. Worthiness in the creature, is not the motive that rules Christ. Should we measure our hopes by our worthiness, there was no blessing to be hoped for; but if we measure them by Christ's bounty and compassion, there is no blessing to be despaired of.

Note, 6. How Christ not only answers the desires, but exceeds the expectations of this distressed person. His request was only, Come and heal my son. Christ's answer was, Go thy way, thy son liveth. Our heavenly Father, when he doth not give us what we ask, gives us better than we asked. We ask what we think best, but God gives what he knows to be best. Christ here gave a greater demonstration of his omnipotency than was craved.

Note, lastly, With one word doth Christ heal two patients; the son of his fever, the father of his unbelief. It was a low degree of faith that brought the father to Christ; it was a higher dignity that sent him back to his son; but highest of all, when finding his son healed, he himself believed and his whole house.

Learn hence, That a weak faith may be true, but a true faith is always growing and increasing: It is like the path of the just, that shineth more and more until the perfect day.

Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on John 4". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wbc/john-4.html. 1700-1703.
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