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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
1 John 2

 

 

Verse 1

I. THE TEST OF THE TRUE CHRISTIAN GNOSTIC, OR ONE “WHO KNOWETH GOD,” (1 John 2:3,) IS HIS CONDEMNATION OF, AND SEPARATION FROM, SINNING AND SIN THE GNOSTIC CLAIMANT TO A TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IN SIN IS A FALSE PRETENDER, 1 John 2:1-29.

1. For the Christian’s sin of infirmity Christ is a universal propitiation, 1 John 2:1-2.

1. My little children—This is John’s opening appellative for his entire audience on rising to speak; or, rather, commencing to write. Though a coelebs, (but see note on 2 John 1:13,) as tradition generally affirms, he is a paternal model. To the venerable age of our apostle his audience at Ephesus, although fathers, young men, and children (1 John 2:13) in comparison with each other, were all children, little children, grandchildren. Hence the tradition that his last preaching words in old age were, “Little children, love one another.” See our vol. ii, p. 225.

These things—Bengel refers these things to what follows, Grotius to the preceding, while most commentators refer it to the last 1 John 2:8-10. But as we view 1 John 2:5-10 to be a summary of all the epistle following, we refer it to both the past and the following, both being the same.

Sin not—The main aim of the epistle being to show the incompatibility of sinning as an actual practice, or sin as a permanent state, with the divine fellowship or communion.

And—Rather, yet.

If—So liable is even the Christian to transgression that provision must be made for its occurrence.

Any man— Among you; and so, inferentially, among mankind.

Sin—In spite of his general purpose and rule of life to live above sin. The difference between the sin of the Christian and that of the Gnostic is, that the former is struggled against, condemned, and repented of by the man, while the latter is freely indulged, and maintained as right and suitable to be practised in the future.

An advocate—An attorney, or responsible speaker for us in court. The term implies that the man is now a culprit on trial before the Father for his sin, and Christ is his lawyer to plead for him. The image is borrowed from Roman law, no such officer as an advocate being known to the Old Testament. When brought under the Romans, the Jews and other conquered peoples were obliged to engage Roman lawyers to plead their cases. Such an advocate was Tertullus, in Acts 24:1, where see notes. The Greek word here for advocate is παρακλητος, paraclete, a word applied, in its original sense of consoler or “comforter,” to the Holy Spirit.

The righteous—The sinless One, who, having no transgressions of his own, is able to plead with just influence before the court of the Most Holy, where we dare not ourselves appear.


Verse 2

2. Ours only… whole world—The heart of our apostle is too expansive to limit the grace of the Redeemer to a select number. Christ is a race Redeemer, a world-Saviour. The interpretation that strives against language so rich to force a limit upon it, dishonours Christ and dishonours itself. Such is the perversity of Calvin’s words quoted disapprovingly by Alford: “Under all he does not comprehend reprobates; but designates those who are yet to believe and who are scattered through the various regions of the world.” Such a meaning of the word world has no instance in Scripture; for the Word is more apt to be used, especially by John, to signify the world of unbelievers. In fact, the very purpose of John here is, to deny and repudiate a limited atonement. Beautiful and true are the words of Bengel: “So wide as sin extends does the propitiation extend.”


Verse 3

3. We know him—The Gnostics claimed to know God, and thereby to be free to all bodily sin. See note on 2 Thessalonians 2:7. But the criterion of a true Christian Gnostic is his keeping God’s commandments. The character of the other sort of Gnostic is sharply pronounced in next verse. This knowing him is deeper than a mere historical perception of him. It requires that we should know that we know him, by knowing that it makes us keep his commandments. It is a knowledge which descends from the head into the heart, and runs along the nerves and muscles, making us think, and feel, and act rightly. Bengel notices the climax in the three 1 John 2:4-6 expressed in know, in him, and abide in him. These three he designates beautifully as cognition, communion, and constancy. No other know him has any saving value—but the contrary. The more we know him without this test, the more our condemnation. In the verses previous to the first interlude (1 John 2:7) the sinlessness of the true Gnostic is designated as keeping commandments; in verses before the second interlude (1 John 2:12) under the images of love and light.


Verses 3-14

2. Yet for the claimant of the divine purity the test is abstinence from all sinning, 1 John 2:3-14.

It might at first be supposed that a ready advocate and propitiation for the believer’s sins might furnish easy license for sin. And separating that fact from its proper conditions, one may abuse it for antinomianism. St. Paul met the same objection, that we may abound in sin that the grace of propitiation may abound, in the same way as John does here. Romans 6:1, where see notes. Our adherence to Christ is incompatible with a purpose to abound in sin.


Verse 4

4. He that saith—Note on 1 John 1:6. John has the antagonist, as usual, in view. He affirms the positive truth, and negatives the counter untruth.

I know him—And know that I am safe in transgression either through him or without him.

A liar—A guilty falsifier of the very foundation of redemption, that he may indulge in breaking the divine commandments.

The truth—Note on 1 John 1:8.


Verse 5

5. But—Returning to the affirmative in earnest repetition, with emphasis on verily and know.

Keepeth—By not only remembering, but obeying.

Love of God perfected—By being brought into full force and action.

Perfected—In the same degree that it is effective in making us keep his word.

Hereby—Referring to keepeth his word.

Know we—We do most completely know that we know… him, or (what is the same thing, and more) are in him.

In him—In Christ, by communion, and thereby in God.


Verse 6

6. Abideth—The summit of the grades, know him, in him, and abideth in him. This abiding is Christian perseverance—reverse of apostasy.

He walked—The word he has thus far in the paragraph been the Greek αυτος; here it is εκεινος. From this change Alford infers that the first refers to God, (note on 1 John 2:3,) and this last to Christ. But both refer to Christ; the former as our divine advocate and propitiation before the Father in heaven, (1 John 2:1-2,) the latter to the man Jesus as he walked on earth for our example.


Verse 7

7. First interlude. Twice in this chapter St. John interrupts the current of thought in order to express the personal purpose and feeling of his writing. Other writers would have done this at the introduction; but he has begun with the full propounding of his subject, and his personal references come in parenthetically by the way. This interlude meets the objection that his doctrine is a novelty. The commandment is not, as some think, simply the law of brotherly love, (though 1 John 2:10-11 show that to be included,) but the entire preceding injunction of 3-6, requiring our knowing and abiding in our great propitiation—that is, in the divine fellowship and perfect love summarized in 1 John 1:6-7. This was no new commandment; indeed, they had heard it from the beginning; that is, from the first announcement of Christ’s gospel to them. This newly delivered injunction is the same old word they had ever heard, even from the beginning of their Christian knowledge, 8. Again—That is, under another view of the subject, the commandment is new. It is, on opposite sides, at the same time both old and new. Even when first preached through Christ it was old, both as a natural and eternal divine obligation, and as a record in the Hebrew revelation; and it was new by the revelation of our example, propitiation, and advocate, Jesus Christ; and this newness is a true thing both in the Christ and in the believer—in him and in you. It is true in Christ as unfolding a new force in the law of love; it is true in you as being pledged by your interest in the propitiation (1 John 2:2) to perfect obedience to, and oneness with Christ. The darkness once shading that law of love is past by this revelation of Christ; and the true light now shineth by which the force of that law, or commandment, is made luminous. The old commandment is, therefore, a new one.


Verse 9

9. The 1 John 2:9-11 are a resumption of the thread of thought from 1 John 2:6, after the parenthetic 7, 8.

In the light—Namely, the true light of the last verse, Jesus the propitiator. It is under the imagery of light and darkness, now, (in 9-11,) that the antithesis between the Christian and the errorist is presented. The light is the emblem of truth and purity blended in one; the darkness is the unity of error and sin.

Hateth his brother—His brother, in the various degrees in which that title can be applied to his fellow-man. Love of various degrees and kinds is due to the brother in each sense, as fellow-believer, as child of the same human parent, as child of the same all-Father. As John is expounding the fellowship of the believer with Christ and God, it is in the first sense that the word brother is here primarily used.

In darkness—Destitute of the divine light and love. He is spiritually dark and cold.

Until now—How much soever he may have professed to be in the light.

10, 11, restate strongly the antithesis between fraternal love and hatred, presenting it as the prominent test of our moral condition.


Verse 12

12. I writeI am writing. While I write, my mind surveys your different ages of natural and Christian life blended in one.

Sins are forgiven—The entire Church is addressed on the common basis of being justified Christians, 13. Fathers—Some of them, perhaps, remembered when Paul and Apollos first preached in Ephesus.

Known… beginning—When Ephesus first received the Gospel. As if this were of itself enough, he repeats precisely the same words to the fathers in the second triad in the next verse.

Young men—Thus the three ages must be held to cover the whole of life. The Greek word extends to forty years of life and over. But an old man, like our apostle, makes his youngers younger than they are, and these young men were doubtless young until they became old. The term would be rightly understood of middle-age.

Because—To each age he gives its suited motto. In next triad the young men have a fuller certificate. They are strong, are firm and permanent, have overcome the devil. They may not be reposing in their laurels, like the fathers, but they are robust, and are in fact victors in their still enduring battle.

Little children—Youths would seem to be too old a term to be equivalent to the Greek, unless we remember the above-named habit of the aged man. The word is plainly intended to cover all less than the young, or rather middle-aged, men. And both here and in 1 John 2:18 the knowledge imputed to them is too high for a mere child.

Known the Father—Namely, the divine Father of all; who is truly known through Jesus Christ. They were the true Gnostics.


Verses 12-14

12-14. Second interlude. See note, 1 John 2:7. Little children here, as in 1 John 2:1, means our apostle’s entire audience. And the use of the term seems to have suggested forthwith the purpose of addressing the three ages—fathers, middle-aged, and youths—and by way of emphasis he goes over the triad twice. The little children of 1 John 2:12 is a different word from the little children, or youths, of 1 John 2:13; 1 John 2:18.


Verse 14

14. Have written—Rather, I wrote. A change of tense from the I write of the last verse. Yet the meaning is probably about the same. The epistolary aorist tense assumed the standpoint of the reading of the epistle, as if saying, while you read this, know that I wrote thus and so. Nevertheless this past tense may be more emphatic than the present. The third address of this triad little children occurs in 1 John 2:18, where suitable matter occurring reminds the apostle that they should be addressed.


Verse 15

15. Love—Resumption of the topic of love from 1 John 2:11. To that verse John had impressively taught us to love our brother; he will now teach us what not to love.

The world—There are aspects in which the world should be loved.

1. With a love of affection which desires its well-being not only as a whole, but for the beings that inhabit it. Even “God so loved the world;” and so requires us to love; and this includes the love of our brother in 1 John 2:3-14.

2. We are to love in due degree the enjoyments which God has provided for our rational natures. We may enjoy life as a scene of duties, mercies, and gracious gifts of God. Yet are we so to enjoy as to not love it in any superiority over, or competition with, that better world for which it is our preparatory. He who enjoys this world in accordance with a constant faith in a higher and holy world to come “makes the best of both worlds.” A two-fold happiness makes him both fearless and doubly cheerful. But there are three aspects in which the world is not to be loved.

1. As a material solid residence it is under divine reprobation, and is vanishing and doomed, and if we bury ourselves in its materialities we are liable to be doomed with it. 2. As a mass of unregenerate beings, to whom, however we may wish well, yet we know that it “lieth in wickedness,” and must not sympathize with its unregeneracy. 3. As a mass of depravities and errors, of immoralities and false doctrines, there is a world of thought and character for which we must have no moral approving love. These are unfolded in the triad of the next verse. In these aspects the love of the world is incompatible with the love of the Father. The errorist may believe that his lawless appetites for the world are at one with the Father; the Christian knows better. Of these three the first is most properly the world.

Love of the Father—The word Father here, as in 1 John 2:1, designates God the Father in his relation to the Son, and so as head of the system of salvation. The love of the Father is, then, our love for God as the prime source of our salvation, the author of the blessed heaven, the Father of Christ. It is the love inspired by the Spirit in consequence of our faith in Christ.


Verses 15-17

3. So that we must not love a godless and evanescent world, 1 John 2:15-17.

This self-purification revolves a withdrawal of our fellowship from the world in its impure conditions.


Verse 16

16. All that is in the world—In this world, as beheld by faith in the light of the better world, the following three classes of things comprehend all.

Lust—In the Greek the term is capable of designating a good desire; but it derives from the context a bad sense. Our desires are all good when fixed in the right degree on the right thing. When fixed upon wrong objects, or in excessive degree on right objects, our desires become lust.

Lust of the flesh—That is, lust proceeding from our animal appetites, alimentary and sexual. Rightly regulated, these appetites are right; unregulated, they are lusts.

Of the eyes—Inordinate desires for getting all our eyes can see; the lawless indulgence of the possessory desires; greed for wealth, prompting to overreaching, to breach of trust, to gambling, plunder, and robbery.

Pride of life—Tawdry love of display, selfish ambition for rank, power, and governmental conquest. To draw the line where the proper use of worldly things is divided from its abuse is a most important office of Christian ethics.

Not of the Father—Who has made a better world for us, and makes it ours through his Son.

Of the world—In contrast with his high and holy world, wherein dwelleth righteousness.


Verse 17

17. Passeth away—It is transitory. It passeth away from the grasp of earth’s successive and dying generations. Its fashions and phases, its crises and epochs, are perpetually undergoing changes and revolutions.

Lust thereof—Our pursuits and passions are as transitory as the world— neither is worthy so much excitement. Tranquil Christian life, fixing its eye on a heavenly future, ready for suffering or duty or enjoyments as this brief scene requires, and just as ready to leave at any moment, is safest and far the happiest. It is thus we can make the best of both worlds.

Abideth forever—In this changing state of things every thing goes under save the man of God. The wicked go down to everlasting death; the objects of human lust perish and go into other forms; the earth will dissolve, the sun be extinguished, but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever. Most ample reason is here against love of the world.


Verse 18

4. Nor must we accept the many antichrists whose coming marks the closing age, 1 John 2:18-19.

18. Little children—The third in the second triad of ages, commenced but unfinished in 1 John 2:14. It now occurs because our apostle is about to mention a last time through which the younger portion of his audience will have passed and beheld its results.

The last time—Literally, a last hour. It is in the Greek without the definite article, like similar phrases in 1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 3:1, (where see notes,) which indicate a closing period, (namely, of the apostolic age,) rather than the close of earthly time. The absence of the article does not, apart from the context, fully prove that the reference is not to the second advent; for in 1 Peter 1:5 the second advent is unquestionably designated as a final period, and in Judges 1:18, it is called a last time. The second advent is of course a last hour, but a last hour is with no certainty the second advent. See note on 2 Peter 3:3. It is by the context that the phrase here is fixed to mean a last hour rather than the last hour. A last hour bears the same relation to the last hour that the many elemental antichrists bear to the antichrist. Just as these many antichrists were typical of our final antichrist, of whom the readers had heard, so this last hour was typical of that last day of which they had learned. To make St. John say the close of the world is attested by the presence of the antichrist because there are now many antichrists is to make him reason inconsequently. These typical antichrists can only be adduced to prove a typical last hour. Huther incorrectly makes the apostle intimate that the many antichrists preceded the antichrist as immediate forerunner; but there is no reference in any word of the apostle to time, but to the relative character. Just so St. Paul declares that “the mystery of iniquity doth already work;” that is, the moral elements of the “man of sin” were now seminally existing in secret. Important on the antichrist and his time are our notes on Acts 8:9; Acts 6:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 1 Timothy 4:1-4. The error of Huther, Alford, and many others, in applying this last time to the second advent ought, we should suppose, to have been prevented by Paul’s express warning to the Thessalonians that such language did not imply Christ’s near approach; as well as St. Peter’s caution in 2 Peter 3:8. See our Supplementary Note at close of Matthew 25. At the approaching close of his life our apostle saw that the withdrawal of his fellow apostles from this scene of things was the close of a historical cycle, and the development of the errorists foretold by Saint Paul had already approached; so that the hour was typical of that last period before the rise of antichrist, who precedes the last advent. It was just equivalent to St. Paul’s predictive phrase, addressed to this same Ephesus, “after my departure,” where these very many antichrists are foretold. To this we may perhaps add Grotius’s solution, that the last hour indicated the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish state. For although the destruction of Jerusalem was no organic part of the framework of the kingdom of God, and probably had past at the time this was written, yet it did, as predicted by Christ, coincide with and characterize as one element the closing apostolic cycle. See quotation from Hegesippus in note on 1 Timothy 4:1.

Ye have heard—St. Paul early “told” the Thessalonians. 2 Thessalonians 2:5.

Antichrist—An epithet used by St. John alone, here and 22; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7. The word is rightly interpreted by Huther as “not simply the enemy of Christ, but the opposition-Christ; that is, the enemy of Christ who, under the lying guise of Christ, endeavours to destroy the work of Christ.” The fundamental mark of this antichrist St. John twice declares to be the denial that Christ was “flesh,” 1 John 4:3, and 2 John 1:7. And this was based on that assumption of the inherent evil of matter, which forbade marriage among the Gnostics, and which appears at the present day in the celibacy of the pope and his immense army of priests throughout the world, and in the promulgation of the dogma of the immaculate conception of Mary. Huther is clear as to the identity of John’s antichrist with Saint Paul’s. “Rightly have almost all commentators understood that John understands under this enemy the same as Paul describes, 2 Thessalonians 2:3, etc. The points which appear in the picture of Paul, and those in the explanations of John, so coincide and answer to each other that there need be no doubt about it. According to both, the manifestation discloses itself in the Church by an exodus from it; for John says, (1 John 2:19,) the antichrists went out from us, and Paul (1 John 2:3) speaks of a revealed, and a falling away. Both describe him as a God-opposing evil nature. Paul figures him as the man of sin, the lawless: John as the spirit of antichrist, in antithesis to the spirit of God; and says of the antichrists who are animated by him that they are of the world. Both characterize him as a liar who strives to make the lie victorious over the truth. Both represent that he appears in the last time before the second advent of Christ. Then, also, if the name antichrist, αντιχριστος, is not strictly synonymous with the anti-lying, ο αντικειμονος, yet even this point in Paul’s picture is so significant as to show how striking John’s naming of the enemy is. And when Paul describes the man of sin as showing himself that he is God, he clearly implies that spurious incarnation of God which the very name of antichrist implies.” And we may add, as Huther does not, that as St. Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:2) expressly writes to show that he does not mean that either the man of sin or the day of Christ is really near at hand, so St. John does not mean by his last time and many antichrists that the second advent will be in his day.

Many antichristslast time—As the antichrist identifies THE last time, so the many antichrists identify A last time.


Verse 19

19. St. John now proceeds to declare that these Nicolaitans, or Gnostics, were not so much apostates as original heretics, at heart discordant with the Church from the very first. So Simon Magus, an original juggler and false doctrinary, entered the Christian body without ever being a Christian; and though he went out formally from the Christian body, he did not apostatize from Christ, for he was never a Christian.

They—The antichrists.

Went out from us—They made open exodus from the Christian body.

Not of usNot of the true body of Christ in doctrine or heart. They were Maguses, who inserted themselves in the Church, yet holding Christ to be a phantasm.

If they had been—If they had truly known and loved Christ.

Have continued with us—The cause of their secession could not then have existed. Loving God and loving the brethren, they would have loved the communion of the Church, and rejoiced to remain in the Christian body.

But—Their exodus was no loss to the Church, but a good providence.

That—It was graciously designed.

Manifest—Their exposure would relieve the Church of all responsibility for their false doctrines and unbecoming lives.

They were not all of us— Truer rendering, that not all (among us) are (truly) of us. It becomes a clear case that there are some among us for whose principles and conduct the true gospel is irresponsible. Alford, following Dusterdieck, has an elaborate dissertation on the passage, as if it had some bearing on the question of the necessary final perseverance of all true believers. He writes as if the apostle assumed a universal law in the kingdom of God, that a man once converted always continues a saved man. But St. John’s word continued refers not to continuing a Christian, but to the remaining in the Church if you are a Christian. It does not say, or assume, that all Christians will forever stay Christians; but that it may be assumed, when we know nothing to the contrary, that these men would have remained in the Church if they had been, and as long as they were, Christians. Why not?


Verse 20

5. The purifying unction will preserve you from uniting with the antichristic revolt, 1 John 2:20-29.

20. But—Rather, και, and. It connects with continued, and proceeds to show how his readers may continue in the catholic body; namely, by unction of the Spirit; by using their perfect knowledge of the true apostolic doctrine; and by a firm determination of the will to abide.

Unction—A chrism or anointing oil. The anointing with oil in the dry climate of the east is a means of bodily health and comfort. Hence the anointing-oil became a symbol of divine benediction. In this view, not only in ancient Israel, but even in ancient Egypt, the anointing ceremony was used in inducting kings and priests into their sacred office. Compare Exodus 40:15; Numbers 3:3; Judges 9:8; Judges 9:15; 1 Samuel 9:16; 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Kings 1:34; 1 Kings 1:39. “The Lord’s anointed” was, indeed, the king’s title. The word Christ signifies anointed, as chrism signifies the oil or the anointment. Note on Matthew 1:1. And here the unction, or chrism, is used in contrast to the antichrists, who left Christ and became antichrists, because they had no such sanctifying chrism.

Know all thingsAll, the whole doctrine of Christ; missing which the antichrists revolted.


Verse 21

21. Not written—His epistle does not presuppose any doubt of their knowledge, but is an expression of his confidence in their adherence.

No lie—Like the denial of the reality of Christ’s person, and the claim to be pure while wallowing in sin. John had none of the modern delicacy that hesitates to call a lie a lie, any more than to call a murder a murder. Is of the system of apostolic truth. From his own knowledge (note 1 John 1:1) our apostle knew that to deny our Lord’s flesh and body was a historic fiction, to which Christian truth was absolutely opposite.


Verse 22

22. A liar—Rather, the liar; or, as Wesley, more pointedly, that liar.

Jesus is the Christ—The errorists, who believed matter the source of all evil, denied that the material bodily Jesus was the real Christ, and affirmed that the Christ descended upon him at baptism. Hence the trinity was doctrinally disorganized. The antichrist of that last time, therefore, really denied the Father and the Son.


Verse 23

23. Hath not the Father—The medium of our divine approach to the Father, namely, the Son, is by them removed, and they, alas! have not the Father. All the blessings of the gracious system, pardon of sin, the chrism from the Holy One, and the assurance of salvation descending from the Father by the Son upon us, are forfeited.


Verse 24

24. Let that—The sure apostolic tradition. Note on 1 John 1:1. The true historic doctrine of the real, genuine Jesus Christ you have heard from us, the apostles, who were his chosen witnesses. You have that truth enriched by the chrism of the Holy One.

Let it… abide in you— Otherwise you will become antichrists, and abandon the apostolic body.

Heard from the beginning—It came from Christ himself; whereas the Nicolaitan dogma came from Simon Magus or from Nicholas the deacon.

Note on Acts 6:5. If—Here is the dread alternative of perseverance or apostasy; which, your own free will must decide.


Verse 25

25. Eternal life—The final and endless blessing coming down upon the faithful from the Father through the Son. Their attaining it depends upon the abide, 1 John 2:24.


Verse 26

26. These… written—Reviewing from 1 John 2:20.

Them that seduce you—The deniers of the bodily Jesus.


Verse 27

27. But every thing depends upon our retaining this chrism, this true anointing. As long as we possess the holy chrism we will adhere to the holy Christ. It is the rich assurance of the testifying and sanctifying Spirit that insures against apostatizing to the fellowship of them that seduce you. It gives you a reality of assurance that ye need no teachers.

According as you firmly retain that ye shall (rather, will, the simple future) abide in him.


Verse 28

28. Abide in him—Earnest and repeated exhortation to that determination of their own free will which God will not overrule to their perseverance, and without which they will apostatize. When he shall (will) appear— Literally, If he will appear. Expressing no doubt of his own, though doubted and contradicted by the errorists.

At his coming—Whenever that unknown event shall take place.


Verse 29

29. HeThe Holy One of 1 John 2:20, God the Father.

Born of him—Is, by the chrism of the Holy One, so conformed to his image as to become his son, the younger brother of Christ. This verse properly belongs to the next chapter.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 John 2:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-john-2.html. 1874-1909.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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