“Yield Your Heart to God”—the Process of Sanctification

W. Ralph Pew

W. Ralph Pew, “‘Yield Your Heart to God’—the Process of Sanctification,” in The Book of Mormon: Helaman Through 3 Nephi 8, According To Thy Word, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr. (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1992) 207–222.

W. Ralph Pew was an attorney in Mesa, Arizona, at the time this was published.

On 6 April 1861, the Prophet Brigham Young instructed the Saints concerning their preparation for the events of the latter days:

Let our anxiety be centered upon one thing, the sanctification of our own hearts, the purifying of our own affections, the preparing of ourselves for the approach of the events that are hastening upon us. This should be our concern, this should be our study, this should be our daily prayer, and not to be in a hurry to see the overthrow of the wicked. {Journal of Discourses 9:3)

The objective of this paper is to consider the process of sanctification and provide us with the hope and the encouragement to apply doctrinal concepts into the practical reality of sanctifying our hearts.

Sanctification is a lifetime process of refinement whereby the naturally occurring tendencies of mortality are preferentially purged from our soul through the atoning blood of Christ and by our voluntarily yielding our agency to God. Consistent submission to the will of God increases faith, strengthens humility, and develops meekness. Through this process we experience a newness of heart and are directed to the spiritual refreshment known as sanctification.

Although divine in nature and potential, humanity is, after all, carnal. As a consequence of the Fall, mortality carries with it the baggage of natural, carnal inclinations. Just as metals are refined of impurities through heat, water, and various chemical processes, the natural man, as an enemy to God (Mosiah 3:19), must be purified and cleansed through the process of sanctification.


Metals are produced by extracting them from ores, then refining and purifying them until impurities are ultimately removed as scum. The final product is a metal that has been cleansed and purged of undesirable impurities that occur naturally in the elements. Scriptural references to the refiner’s fire create distinct imagery of the physical refinement process that must occur with natural elements to produce precious metals. The Lamanites and Nephites were clearly aware of metallurgical refinement procedures:

And behold, there was all manner of gold in both these lands, and of silver, and of precious ore of every kind; and there were also curious workmen, who did work all kinds of ore and did refine it; and thus they did become rich. (Hel 6:11)

They knew and understood the fact that they could produce metals only by separating them from ores through refining and purifying. Because of this understanding, the concept of spiritualizing the natural man through a refining process was an idea that they could readily relate to and apply in their lives. As is recorded in the book of Ether, large heaps of earth were piled up on the ground, and from this, only small portions were actually purified into precious metals (Ether 10:23). So it is with the natural man: we are encumbered with the carnal proclivities of mortality that must be removed through the process of sanctification in order to become as spiritually pure in our heart’s desires as platinum is metallically pure in its element content.

Purification Under the Law of Moses

Focusing the thoughts and intents of the children of Israel on Christ was accomplished in many ways. The rituals and ceremonies under the law of Moses associated with cleansing and purifying are symbolic of the process of spiritual sanctification. The physical purification ritual for one cleansed of leprosy is particularly characteristic of the sanctification that occurs through spiritual refinement and cleansing. Physical leprosy represents spiritual infection: banishment from camp is the separation from God; being presented to a priest satisfies the requirement of confession to the bishop; the death of the bird is the conquering of the natural man; freeing the live bird can represent newness of life; and the blood and water are similitudes of the Atonement and purification (McConkie 9 5—96). Just as the one cleansed of leprosy was admitted back into the society of the camp of Israel, mortals that attain a change of heart and are reconciled to God are purified through the combination of blood, water, and spirit (Moses 6:59).

Doctrine of Sanctification

The efficacy of the doctrine of sanctification in our lives is singular. Its fulfillment requires the supportive and sequential contributions of the atoning blood of Christ, the influence of the Holy Ghost, and the proper exercise of our agency. To be sanctified requires that we be cleansed from sin. This washing away of sins can occur only through the blood of Christ, which was shed for us.

At the time of baptism, the truly repentant individual who has exercised faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will experience the first phase of sanctification or cleansing through the blood of the Lamb. Baptism is unto a remission of sins and ultimately those that remain faithful after baptism and exercise faith unto repentance throughout their lives will receive forgiveness of sins. This forgiveness of sins comes through the blood of Christ and sanctifies the individual.

At the conclusion of king Benjamin’s address in Zarahemla, the people fell to the earth and cried: “O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified . . .” (Mosiah 4:2).

Moroni, in his concluding admonition taught: “And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot” (Moroni 10:33).

To remain faithful throughout our mortal lives demands that we challenge the natural man within us and declare spiritual war on the physical elements of mortality. The struggle to put off or purge the natural man from our hearts and souls is the second phase of the process of sanctification and can be characterized as spiritualizing our temporal body. The Holy Ghost as the sanctifier (3 Nephi 27:20) is endowed with the divine capacity to engage our souls in this spirit of reformation. Through the righteous exercise of our agency and the purifying power of the Holy Ghost, we learn to yield to the will of the Father voluntarily and without compulsion. Learning this process of submission through a lifetime of choices and actions harmonious with the will of God leads to our spiritual purification.

Understanding with our finite mortal minds how the Holy Ghost accomplishes this sanctifying work is as difficult as comprehending how the Savior atoned for our sins. What we do understand is the fact that the Holy Ghost, as a member of the Godhead, functions in a manner calculated to refine and purify the human soul.

The Holy Ghost as Sanctifier

When we open our hearts to the promptings of the Spirit, its divine manifestations, “distill upon [our] soul[s] as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45). Three specific ways in which the Holy Ghost facilitates the sanctification process within our hearts include: (1) directing us in making correct choices; (2) motivating us to repentance; and (3) testifying of the divinity of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.

Making Correct Choices. Our mortal probation, where we keep our second estate (Abr 3:26), is a time to prepare to meet God (Alma 34:32). This life is made up of a series of situations in which we must make decisions and choices. Each day we face new and different challenges in our personal religious behavior, our relationship with our families, our work, and in our associations with other men and women in the world. To make the correct choices in all things both temporal and spiritual requires the direction of the Holy Ghost, and making them will contribute to our cleansing and purification.

The Lord taught Oliver Cowdery concerning the Holy Ghost as a revelator of knowledge and truth:

Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation. (D&C 8:3)

Later, Oliver Cowdery was again instructed on this topic:

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. (D&C 9:8)

The Holy Ghost dwells in our hearts (D&C 8:3). We can overcome the struggles, temptations, and challenges of this second estate only by allowing the Holy Ghost permanent residency in our hearts rather than granting it merely a temporary transit visa for an occasional visit. Recognizing that the Holy Ghost wants clean, pure, and comfortable accommodations, we should endeavor to live each day by making decisions in all aspects of mortality that invite the Spirit to reside in our hearts. In our daily effort to make correct decisions and to walk blameless before God, the Holy Ghost will direct our path and teach us the peaceable things of the kingdom (D&C 39:6).

Motivating to Repentance. Alma, preaching to the people of Gideon, taught that the Spirit inspires repentance:

But behold, the Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying: Cry unto this people, saying—repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness. (Alma 7:9,14)

When we begin to follow a path that will lead us to ultimate destruction and a wider spiritual separation from the Father, if we yield to the power and influence of the Holy Ghost, it will work on our hearts and souls to motivate and direct us to return to the path of the Father, to repent and cleanse our lives before the Lord. The essence of the purifying attributes of the Holy Ghost reside within us and entice us to cleanse our natural selves through repentance. The spirit of the Lord will not dwell in us when our thoughts and actions are unclean (Alma 34:36; Hel 4:24). Yielding to the Holy Ghost and its influence will provide us the strength we need to bring true repentance into our lives.

Mormon, in an epistle to Moroni, lamented the pride of the Nephite nation and decried the prophesy of their resulting destruction “except they would repent” (Moroni 8:27). Recognizing that the Nephites had lost the Spirit, Mormon urged his son: “Pray for them, my son, that repentance may come unto them. But behold, I fear lest the Spirit hath ceased striving with them; and in this part of the land they are also seeking to put down all power and authority which cometh from God; and they are denying the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 8:28).

Having lost the Spirit or, in the Apostle Paul’s words, having grieved the Spirit (Eph 4:30–32), the Nephites would not come unto repentance. Only through the spirit of the Lord dwelling in humble and meek tabernacles could they be brought to a recognition of their sins and weaknesses and thereby be inspired to repent. Mormon taught Moroni that the remission of sins brings meekness and lowliness of heart, and in this contrite condition the visitation of the Holy Ghost follows, bringing a divine presence of hope and perfect love (Moroni 8:26).

The Holy Ghost as Special Witness. The sometimes difficult and challenging pathways of mortality are wearisome and dreary without a light and knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ. As children of God, each one of us has the duty and obligation to obtain knowledge relative to the divinity of the Godhead and the truthfulness of the Lord’s work. This knowledge is not found in the world’s greatest libraries or in its institutions of higher learning. The philosophies of humanity and the technology of the times will not produce this most significant understanding. Only the gift of the Holy Ghost as a testifier and a witness can penetrate our hearts with the unspeakable assurance that God the Eternal Father is the great Elohim, the Father of our spirits and that his Son, Jesus Christ, is the Only Begotten Son in the flesh and that “by Him and . . . of Him the worlds are and were created and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:24). This personal witness that must come to each of us is quietly nurtured in the softened heart of the believer and continues to grow and be strengthened each day as we develop a more profound appreciation for the solemnities of eternity (43:34). The whisperings of the Spirit compound in our hearts until the full crescendo of truth is revealed to our souls. This then is the witness born of the Holy Ghost in the capacity of testifier. Such a testimony imbued in the heart of the saint is immovable and more vivid to our spirit than knowledge produced or experienced by any of our earthly senses. The testimony that permeates our heart through this divine influence is the firm foundation from which all light and truth emerge. The witness of the Father and the Son imparted to us by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3; 3 Nephi 11:32) will provide us with the light and knowledge necessary to approach the difficulties and trials of this earthly probation with confidence and eternal assurance.

Yield Your Heart to God

Recognizing the comparison between metallurgical refinement and spiritual purification, combined with understanding the fundamental role of the Holy Ghost in the sanctification process, provides us the background for consideration of the practical reality of refining our lives by surrendering the desires of our hearts to God. Mormon’s abridgement of the decade from the forty-third year to the fifty-third year of the reign of the judges is insightful concerning the antithetical notions of pride and sanctification. Although the outward indications of peace existed in the land during the fifty-first year of the reign of the judges, the insidious encroachment of pride began to enter into the hearts of those professing to belong to the Church of God (Hel 3:33). The contagious effects of this pride became evident as those afflicted by it began to persecute the humble followers of Christ (v 34). In referring to those that had been persecuted for their faithfulness to Christ, Mormon provides us with a practical approach to the doctrine of sanctification and the keynote of this presentation:

Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the tilling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God. (Hel 3:35)

The key to obtaining the blessings of sanctification is to yield our hearts unto God. We give our hearts to God so that our desires and intentions will be made pure. By so yielding the desires of our hearts, we conform to the will of God and emulate his attributes, thereby becoming spiritualized beings manifesting Godlike characteristics. We cannot effectively yield to Christ a partial portion of our souls. To make sanctification complete we must offer a full and unconditional surrender of our wills to him. C. S. Lewis has explained this commitment as follows:

Christ says, “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: My own will shall become yours.” (153)

Mormon uses the word “wax” in the description of this sanctification process. In this context, one of Webster’s definitions of wax has particular significance: “to grow toward full development.” As the humble followers of Christ prayed and fasted, they grew toward a full development of humility and faith, filling their souls with joy and consolation. As a result of making righteous choices and subordinating their will to the will of God, their hearts were sanctified and made pure.

Prayer, fasting, humility, and faith contribute to the process of sanctification. Meaningful and consistent private prayer serves to remind us that we are indeed children of God and on his errand. Fasting is a tangible physical experience, subordinating the appetites of the flesh to the still small voice of the Spirit. Humility nurtures within our souls the critical recognition of and appreciation for the truth that God has created us, and from the beginning has preserved us from day to day, and lends us breath to live, move and act according to our own wills (Mosiah 2:21). Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is power, this vital source of divine energy operates among the children of humankind to move mountains, render charitable service, and soften hearts. Each of these key words and principles mentioned by Mormon in Helaman 3:35 focuses the mortal mind on the fact that as the heavens are higher than the earth so God, in his exalted sphere, is elevated above humanity (Isa 55:8–9) and that to return to his presence in a clean and sanctified condition requires that we yield our wills to his will and our desires to his desire.

Nephi, the son of Helaman, yielded his will to the will of God and was given divine power. This great prophet labored unceasingly in his ministry. He prayed, bowing himself upon his tower and pouring out his soul unto God (Hel 7:10–11). Then, after exposing to the crowd the murderous scheme of Seantum, Nephi pondered in his heart the things which the Lord had shown unto him (10:2). As he journeyed to his home, a voice came unto him saying:

Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou has done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.

And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.

Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God (Hel 10:4–6; emphasis added)

Nephi’s commitment to seek out the will of God in his life and to yield his own desires to that higher source of direction resulted in his being endowed with the sealing power and the capacity to command all the elements of the earth. The Lord trusted Nephi enough to give him this authority, because from Nephi’s past obedience God knew that he would not ask anything contrary to His will. At the conclusion of this heavenly manifestation, Nephi was commanded to declare repentance to the people (Hel 10:11). And characteristic of his complete submission to the will of God, Nephi did not go to his house to relax and experiment with his new power; rather, he immediately stopped his journey home and returned to preach repentance to the multitudes.

Gospel Principles Facilitate Sanctification

The Sabbath Day. The Lord has promised great blessing and cleansing to those who worship him and honor the Sabbath day: “And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day” (D&C 59:9). Honest and faithful adherence to the spirit of the Sabbath day will assist us in the process of sanctification. As we use our time on the Sabbath in a manner that will draw us and our families closer to the Lord, we will combat those elements of society that can soil and canker our hearts and souls. On this holy day we should direct our energies to doing good and learning about our true relationship with deity. The Sabbath gives us an opportunity to rest from our labors and inculcate principles of virtue and personal religious behavior in our own lives and the lives of our families. Training and instruction given on this day, combined with the witness from the Holy Ghost concerning the divine nature of this work, will reap the blessing promised by the Lord and our actions during the other days of the week will be directed in such a way as to keep us unspotted from the world and thereby be a catalyst in the process of sanctification.

Sacrament. Each week we may partake of the sacrament. The Lord has specified the words to use in the sacramental prayers. As the priest kneels at the altar of the sacrament table, he petitions the Father in prayer, “O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it” (D&C 20:77). The water is also blessed and sanctified in the same way. We partake of the bread and water as symbols in remembrance of the body and blood of the Son of God. In a spiritual sense the partaking of bread and water, physical elements, sanctifies or cleanses us. In the prayer the emblems are blessed and sanctified to the souls of all those that partake. The sacrament is not intended to be physically nourishing or satisfying; the sanctified elements are meant for our souls and act as tangible reminders that our spiritual lives must be cleansed and sanctified before the Lord. We should partake of the sacrament worthily; and if we approach each sabbath day with the thought of sanctifying our hearts, we will learn to appreciate the sacred nature of the sacrament and use it as a weekly reminder and covenant opportunity to cleanse our souls.

The Priesthood. The promised blessings of sanctification attend those who obtain the priesthood and magnify their callings.

For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies. They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God. (D&C 84:33–34)

The Temple. The endowment received in the house of the Lord provides the culminating earthly symbolism of sanctification. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s prayer at the dedication of the temple in Kirtland, Ohio, reminds us that the temple is the house of the Lord and that it has been sanctified as a place of holy worship for those with clean hands and pure hearts:

That thy glory may rest down upon thy people, and upon this thy house, which we now dedicate to thee, that it may be sanctified and consecrated to be holy, and that thy holy presence may be continually in this house. And that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of the Lord’s house may feel thy power, and feel constrained to acknowledge that thou hast sanctified it, and that it is thy house, a place of thy holiness. (D&C 109:12–13)

Every aspect of the temple is inspiring, uplifting, and sanctifying. The covenants and ordinances of the temple, including washings, anointings, endowments, and sealings, are given to us for the sanctification and purification of the natural man. Referring to the Melchizedek Priesthood and the ordinances that are performed in the temple, the Lord said, “ . . . in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest” (D&C 84:20).

Through the Grace of Jesus Christ

The life and mission of Jesus Christ is the consummate example of sanctification that comes through yielding to the will of the Father. Prior to his crucifixion, Christ offered an intercessory prayer on behalf of his disciples:

I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I sent them into the world. And for their sakes / sanctify myself that they also might be sanctified through truth. (John 17:15–19; emphasis added)

There may be an explanation of how and why Christ sanctified himself that is not readily apparent to most of us. Sufficient for our purposes here is the fact that he sanctified himself finally and completely in a very practical way when he yielded his will to the will of the Father and offered himself a ransom for our sins and partook of the bitter cup. There is no greater example of surrendering one’s will to the will of the Father than that shown by his Son in the hour of greatest trial and inward temptation while pleading with the Father to let the cup pass. Christ gave his all. Prior to the physical suffering of the atonement, Christ must have yielded his will to the Father in preparation of completing the mission he was entrusted to accomplish. When the resurrected Savior appeared to the Nephites, he said:

Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning. (3 Nephi 11:10,11)

Referring to this sacred propitiation for sin, the Lord in commanding Martin Harris said:

For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men I am Jesus Christ; I came by the will of the Father, and I do his will. (D&C 19:16–19,24)

At the dedication of the Kirtland temple, the prophet prayed unto the Father pleading for the Spirit and attitude necessary for one to diligently pursue the course of sanctification when he said, “Help thy servants to say, with thy grace assisting them: thy will be done, O Lord, and not ours” (D&C 109:44).

In contrast to the free and peaceful nature of Jesus Christ is the eternally miserable condition of Satan. Why is Satan miserable? His misery comes in part from the fact that he is deceitful, full of lies, cunning, and that he stirs men to anger; after all, wickedness never was happiness (Alma 41:10). The source of Satan’s misery emanates from one central cause: he did not yield to the will of the Father and in so doing he sought to destroy the agency of humankind (Moses 4:3). Following his own will and desires and being forever incarcerated in an eternal captivity with his selfishness makes Satan miserable. The wicked acts committed by Satan and his apprentice devils are threatening to the peace and tranquility of all of God’s children; however, the acts themselves, as reprehensible as they may be, are not, in an eternal perspective, as damning to the soul of the perpetrator as is the premeditated and calculated determination to ignore the will of God. Because Satan refused to yield his heart to God, he was cast down, and he now attempts to entice us away from coming unto Christ with his counterfeit proposition that we can pursue our own wills and desires and therein find happiness. True happiness in the form of liberty and eternal life (2 Nephi 2:27) is only found in yielding to the enticings of the spirit and saying as the Father’s Beloved Son did from the beginning, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2).

The sacrament hymn, “How Great the Wisdom and the Love,” illustrates in poetic form the marvelous surrender of will by the Savior to the plan of the Father:

By strict obedience Jesus won

The prize with glory rife:

“Thy will, O God, not mine be done,”

Adorned his mortal life.

He marked the path and led the way,

And every point defines

To light and life and endless day

Where God’s full presence shines.

(Hymns 195)


King Benjamin described the process of sanctification when he said:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)

Mormon’s account in Helaman chapter 3 clarifies that sanctification is a distinct process and that through prayer and fasting we wax strong in humility and firm in our faith in Christ. Sanctification occurs in our lives as we purge from the natural man carnal tendencies and proclivities by yielding our heart unto God. Developing the ability to allow our personal desires to be subordinated to the will of the Father creates a transformation and softening of our hearts.

The Holy Ghost is the sanctifier. The spirit of the Holy Ghost dwells in our hearts (D&C 8:2). Our hearts must be changed (Alma 5:14) and cleansed through the purification process to become a pure abode of the Holy Ghost and thereby allow his influence to dwell in us (D&C 8:2). Recognizing that sanctification is required of all those who will enter into the kingdom of God, we should focus our lives each day on how we can use the sensitive feelings of our hearts to guide our actions as moved upon by the enticings and promptings of the Holy Ghost. Through the atonement and grace of Jesus Christ, sanctification is made available to all of us who receive the baptism of fire, press forward in life with a steadfastness in Christ, yield our hearts unto God, and purify ourselves from all unrighteousness (2 Nephi 31:19–20; see also Alma 5:26–35; Hel 12:23–26).


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