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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2


The Apostle, having, in the preceding chapters, justified his style of preaching—firstly, on the ground that such was the will of God, who rejected all human wisdom in the work of redemption (chap. 1); secondly, on account of the subject preached—viz., Christ crucified: and having shown that it was not for want of knowledge on his part, but on account of the utter inutility of doing so in reference to the generality of his hearers, he declined preaching the lofty truths of religion, which are to be discerned and examined on spiritual principles only; in this chapter, applies to the Corinthians what he had spoken of already, in general terms. They were not the class of persons to whom such sublime preaching was suited. They required milk—not solid food (1, 2). They are still incapable of deriving profit from such preaching, as is clear from the feelings with which they manifest among themselves, and the false notions, which they appear to have regarding their teachers, who are mere ministers, mere instruments in the hands of God (3–7). There is no difference between their teachers, in this respect; and as for difference of labour, this is a matter which God alone can adequately reward (8). He illustrates the relations which, these preachers hold, by examples drawn from husbandry and architecture. He shows what part he had himself in the rearing of the spiritual edifice. He laid the foundation. He cautions the others about the kind of superstructure they may rear on his foundation (9, 10). As to the foundation itself, it is unchangeable (11). He points out the superstructure which may be raised on this foundation: and he tells the different builders, that should their work be altogether free from stain, they shall be rewarded for that work: but, in other eases, that the performer of the work shall be punished: however, he shall be saved after passing through the purifying ordeal of fire (12–15). He next points out the relation of a spiritual edifice which the faithful uphold: and declares the fate of the man, who, instead of building on the true foundation, subverts it, to be, not salvation through fire, but eternal ruin (16, 17). He next strikes at the root of the schism, telling those who are reputed worldly wise, to become fools, in order to be truly wise: and points out in what light God views worldly wisdom, viz., as folly: and this he proves from Scripture (18–20). He concludes from the foregoing, that they should glory in no creature whatever, but in God alone (21). For, as all creatures, whether animated or inanimate, whether present or future, are rendered by God’s grace subservient to the salvation of the Corinthians: why then glory in creatures? They should rather refer all to the glory of Christ and of God, to whom alone they belong and whose glory all things are intended to promote.


1. And I, brethren, could not address you in the language suited to spiritual men, practiced in the principles of faith. I was obliged to accommodate my instructions to you, as carnal men—incapable of understanding the lofty truths of faith—as little ones in Christ.

2. I was obliged to give you the milk of easy and plain instruction, and to withhold the strong food of more difficult and abstruse doctrines, from which you were then, as you are even still, incapable of deriving profit; for, you are still carnal, like infants, guided by the senses.

3. For, since there is among you envying, which begets strife and divisions, do you not show that you are still actuated by the feelings of the carnal, unregenerate man?

4. For, when one says, I indeed am of Paul; another, and I am of Apollo; do you not show that you are carried away by human feelings?—that you are carnal and not spiritual? What, then, is Paul?—what is Apollo?—or any other?

5. Mere ministers of Him in whom you have believed. And in this capacity of ministers, they labour only according to the degree of talent which God has been pleased to impart to each.

6. I, as minister of God, have sown the seeds of faith amongst you by preaching the simple elements of Christian doctrine. Apollo has more fully instructed you; but the life of grace, and the increase of faith, must come from God alone.

7. Hence, then, the ministers of God, who only plant and water, are to be held in no consideration, compared with God, who gives the increase.

8. And the man who plants, and the man who waters, if regarded in the light in which they are of any consideration whatever, are but one and the same thing, having but one and the same duty and relation of ministry; and as for the difference of labour, it is no affair of yours; for, according to his labour, each one shall be rewarded by God.

9. We are one and the same thing, viz., co-operators with God in the work of planting the field and rearing the spiritual edifice, and you are that husbandry, that tilled field, which we have helped to plant; the spiritual edifice, which we have co-operated with God in rearing.

10. According to the grace of God calling me to the Apostleship, I have, like an expert or skilful architect, laid the foundation, and traced the outlines of the building; but, another rears the superstructure; let each one take care how he may raise the super, structure.

11. I say, raise the superstructure, because, as for the foundation there can be no change, it can be no other than the one I myself have laid—viz., Jesus Christ.

12. If any man build on this foundation, gold, silver, and precious stones, wood, hay, stubble:

13. The work of each man shall one day be made manifest and publicly exposed; the day of the Lord shall declare it; for, this day shall be revealed in fire, and the fire shall prove the nature of each man’s work.

14. If the work which a person has raised on the proper foundation be so pure in every respect as to escape the action, and stand the test of the fire, like pure gold in the furnace, for such a work he shall receive a reward.

15. But the man, whose work, not pure in every respect and without alloy, shall burn like hay or stubble, shall suffer punishment for it, but he himself shall be saved, like one who saves his life by passing through a house on fire.

16. Know you not that you are not only the building, but the sacred building, or temple of God, owing to the in-dwelling of the Holy Ghost in you by sanctifying grace.

17. If any person violates the temple of God, him shall God destroy. Should any one, therefore, ruin your faith or morals, and be thus instrumental in expelling the Holy Ghost from you, who are his spiritual and holy temple, he shall meet with the punishment due to the sacrilegious profaners of God’s temple.

18. Let no man be be deceived; if any one among you has a character for worldly wisdom, let such a person become foolish, according to the world; should he wish to be wise, according to God.

19. For, the wisdom of this world is viewed in no better light by God than folly; for, it is written (Job, verse 13): I will catch the crafty in their cunning.

20. And also (Psalm 93) it is written: The Lord has known the devices of those men, who are reputed wise, to be vain and foolish.

21. Let no one, therefore, glory in men (but in God alone).

22. (Through whose mercy) all things are yours, whether it be Paul, or Apollo, or Cephas, or the whole world, with al! it contains, whether animated, or inanimate, whether things present or future, whether gifts of nature or of grace; all are yours, and made, by the grace of Christ, subservient to your salvation; (why then glory in anything that is made subservient to your use?)

23. But you yourselves belong to Christ, who redeemed you, and Christ as man, belongs to God; therefore, we should glory in Christ and God only.


1. He now applies to the Corinthians the principles already laid down, when he said (2:13), that he wished to accommodate spiritual subjects to spiritual persons. “But as unto carnal.” “Carnal,” here, is the same as “sensual” or animal (2:14): they are both opposed to “spiritual.” They denote the same thing, but differently considered. “Sensual,” implies an inability to understand the things of God, arising from weakness of judgment. “Carnal,” arising from the corrupt passions. The “carnal “are here supposed to be baptized; they are called, “little ones in Christ.”

2. The idea expressed here is borrowed from the difference of food administered to babes and to full-grown men. “I give you milk to drink—not meat.” Greek, and “not meat.” The conjunction is rejected by some of the best critics, and not found in the Alexandrian or Vatican MSS.

3. “Envying and contention,” (in the common Greek is added, and strifes). These latter words are, however, not found in the chief MSS. above quoted. These passions had not matter grievous enough to constitute mortal sin, in which latter respect they are reckoned by the Apostle (Gal. 5), among the sins that exclude from the kingdom of heaven. Here, they sprang from mental infirmity; they were the result of a puerile esteem for the relative excellencies of their different teachers.

4. “For while one saith, I indeed am of Paul,” &c.… “are you not men?” i.e., carried away by human feelings; and do you not prove yourselves incapable of receiving more sublime instruction?

OBJECTION.—Might not men indulge in jealousy and contention, and still be fully capable of understanding the truths of faith? How, then, can carnal here, and sensual or animal (2:14), signify the same thing?

RESP.—The occasion, or rather the object, of their contentions, proves them to be sensual, in the sense already explained—mere infants in the faith. These contentions regarded the relative claims of their different teachers—a matter about which a dispute would never arise among the “spiritual,” or well instructed in the principles of faith; and it is this the Apostle specially considers, when he undertakes to prove, not so much the guilt, as the utter folly of such conduct. Reverting to their divisions of which he spoke (1:12), he points out the light in which their different teachers are to be viewed, and shows that there was no reason whatever for glorying in one beyond the other. “What, then, is Apollo?” &c. In the common Greek, τις οὗν εστι Παυλος; τις δε Απολλως; who, then, is Paul, and who is Apollo? The chief MSS. have τι οὖν εστι Απολλως; τι δε εστιν Παυλος; the order followed by the Vulgate.

5. “Ministers of him whom you have,” &c. In Greek, διακονοι δἰ ών, ministers by whom ye believed.

6. He illustrates, by an example taken from husbandry, the character of their different teachers. They only worked in the vineyard of the Lord, in the spiritual field of God’s Church. St. Paul himself planted the faith first amongst them. “Apollo watered,” i.e., more fully instructed them; but their conversion and perseverance are the work of God.

7. The man who plants, and the man who waters, are to be held in no consideration compared with God. “Any thing,” comparatively speaking, in comparison with God.

8. The man who plants, and the man who waters, are the one and the same thing, considered in the respect under which they are to be prized, or valued by the Corinthians, that is to say, in their relation of ministers of the gospel; and hence, on this score, they are to be equally regarded. Nor is the one entitled to preference before the other. The conclusion to which the words of the Apostle tend is this: that the line of conduct pursued by the Corinthians in this affair is just as preposterous as would be that of the herbs of the garden, could we suppose them to divide into two parties, one declaring for the man who planted, and the other for the man who watered them; because the ministers of the gospel are either nothing compared with God; or, but the same thing viewed in relation to each other—viz., his ministers and instruments; hence, the folly of the Corinthian schism. “And every one shall receive his own reward according to his labour.” How consoling to those who labour for the salvation of souls to know, that the rich rewards, reserved for them in heaven, are proportioned not to their fruits, which belong to God’s grace, but to their “labour.”

9. The Apostle here again reverts to the metaphor taken from husbandry, and also introduces a new one, of the building, to show in what light the several preachers of the gospel should be viewed.

10. He asserts his own dignity above the others. He is the principal builder or architect, whose plans the others must follow; but this superiority he attributes to the grace of God, “the grace of God that is given to me.” He next turns aside from his subject to admonish the persons engaged in the building of the sort of superstructure they should raise on the foundation laid by him. “Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.”

11. “For other foundation no man can lay,” &c., as if he had said, I deliver no instructions regarding the foundation of this spiritual edifice; for, this is unchangeable, “Christ Jesus.” The foundation laid by the Apostle has the same signification here as the words—Christ crucified (2:2), viz.: faith in the Divinity of Christ and in his doctrine. In neither place, however, are we to confine it exclusively to the mere article of faith in Christ’s Divinity. It embraces all the necessary truths of faith, the article of the Trinity, the knowledge of which the faith of the Incarnation supposes, and the other essential articles of Christian doctrine, which each one is bound explicitly to believe. It is likely that he also proposed some precepts of morality; but of all Christian preaching, “Christ crucified” must be the foundation. “For, there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved.”—(Acts, 4:12).

12. There is a great diversity of opinion respecting the meaning of this passage, which St. Augustine (Libro de Fide et Operibus, c. 15, et 16), pronounces to be very difficult and obscure. By the “builders,” it is clear from the entire context, the Apostle means, the teachers of doctrine; for, it was in reference to teachers, the metaphor of the building was introduced, and by “gold, silver, and precious stones,” are meant doctrines preached on the foundation of all Christian teaching, viz., “Christ Jesus.” And although the conclusion, to which the Apostle wishes to direct the attention of the preachers, extends to all kinds of work; for, of every work it is true to say, that “it shall be revealed in fire,” (verse 13); still, the evident scope of the Apostle directly and immediately refers to the works of teachers, whom he cautions, both as regards the doctrine they propound and how they should propound it. By the “gold, silver, and precious stones,” then, is meant doctrine, in every respect, conformable to the gospel, and preached in a manner free from sin of any kind; for, it is only such that would stand the test of fire, as the Apostle supposes, and would merit a reward (verse 14). By “wood, hay, and stubble,” is meant, not heretical doctrine, as some assert; for, such doctrine would subvert the foundation, instead of building on it; and, moreover, of the propounder of such doctrine, the Apostle would never say, “he shall be saved as by fire,” (verse 15)—on the contrary, he would say of him, “him shall God destroy,” as the violator of his temple (verse 17),—but, doctrine sound in faith and morals, still mixed up with many curious opinions, no way conducing to edification; or, rather, doctrine preached in a manner better calculated to please the ears of the hearers, and gain their applause, than to produce the full effect on their hearts; and this is what the Apostle himself has, by his own example, been condemning in the Corinthian preachers.

13. “For the day of the Lord shall declare it.” The words. “of the Lord,” are wanting in the Greek, in which the reading runs thus: ἡ γὰρ ἡμερα δηλώσει, for the day shall declare it. But the article prefixed, ἡ γὰρ ἡμερα, clearly shows it to have reference to the day of the Lord. What is meant by this “day of the Lord” is a subject of controversy with Commentators. Some understand by it the day of tribulation or suffering during the course of this life. This is, however, by no means a probable interpretation; since, the day referred to here is a fixed, definite day, “the day,” and the term of the present life is not the day of the Lord, but our day, according to SS. Scripture. Again, tribulation, which is common to the good and to the bad, would not “declare (the quality) of every man’s work.” Hence, it more probably refers to the day of general judgment, which is frequently, in SS. Scripture, termed “the day of the Lord,” and of it we also find it said, as here, that it “shall be revealed in fire.” And on that day all the works of man shall be made manifest. It shall, therefore, manifest the work of each teacher.

This day “shall be revealed in fire,” which shall precede and usher it in—a fire purgatorial of the good and destructive of the wicked—and that same fire shall prove the nature of each man’s work. The man whose work is altogether pure, shall not be purged by that fire; it shall only serve as the instrument of his death; but the man whose works are not altogether pure and free from stain, shall be purged by it, while causing torture, in a degree more or less intense, according to the degree of venial guilt in his actions.

14. “If any man’s work abide,” &c., i.e., if any man’s work be in every respect so pure, as not to be subject to the purifying effect of that fire, he shall receive a reward for that action in judgment.

15. “If any man’s work burn,” &c., i.e., if any man’s work be such as to subject him to more intense pain and suffering in the fire of conflagration, than is required to cause his death, which that fire shall inflict on all, both good and bad; such a man “shall suffer loss,” ζημιωθησεται, shall be fined, i.e., shall suffer punishment in the fire of conflagration, which is to be purgatorial for such a work, “but he himself shall be saved.” In order to obtain this salvation, however, he must pass through “fire.” The words, “he shall suffer loss,” imply not simply, the loss of the work, but the suffering of punisnment; since, it is opposed to the receiving of “a reward,” (verse 14), and moreover, “wood, hay,” &c., were never worth anything; hence, to lose the reward of them would be no loss whatever. The same is also clear from the words, “if any man’s work burn,” since, it is through the man who performs it that the work shall burn; or, in other words, he shall burn for his work. There is no inconvenience, however, in interpreting the words of the loss of the reward to which the work would otherwise be entitled. Such a man loses the work, and shall be punished for the venial sinfulness found in it, but he himself shall be saved (σωθήσεται), after passing through a fiery ordeal.

The question next to be considered is—Can the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory be proved from this passage? It was the opinion of the Latin Fathers at all times, and of many among the Greeks, that it furnishes a satisfactory proof of the doctrine of Purgatory. This was expressly held by the Latin Fathers of the Council of Florence, in the fifteenth century. The Greek Fathers of that Council, while admitting the doctrine of Purgatory, denied, however, that a proof of it was contained here; because they should then, also admit material fire to be the instrument of purgatign, which was contrary to their opinions. They maintained that the pain of sense in Pugatory was caused, not by fire, but, by sorrows and labours. This opinion, though false, was not, however, condemned either at Florence or Trent. In the exposition adopted in the Paraphrase, the word “fire” is made to refer to the same thing throughout, viz., the fire of conflagration. In this interpretation, the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory is clearly proved from the present passage. For, the Apostle, in holding out threats of punishment to those who were building up “wood, hay, and stubble,” on the foundation which he laid, must, surely, be referring to some punishment to which he knew they were liable, and would certainly undergo in the life to come, in “the day of the Lord.” Now, the Apostle was well aware, that the great day of judgment and the fire of conflagration preceding it, were very distant, as appears from the 2nd Epistle to the Thessalonians, written before this, and that consequently, these vain teacher, and thousands like them, would never live to be purified and saved through the fire of conflagration. Hence, although directly referring to the fire of conflagration throughout, he must include under it another fire, to which those shall be subjected in the life to come, in “the day of the Lord,” (for the time of this life is our day), who commit sins which shall not entail damnation, but which shall cause them to burn and be purified. This is what Catholics call the fire of Purgatory. The reason why the opinion which Understands the Apostle to refer directly to the fire of conflagration seems preferable to any other is, that it is quite usual with him in all his Epistles to refer to the day of judgment, as near at hand for those whom he addresses. This, of course, he could, assert without the slightest deviation from truth, if the measure of time as viewed by God be considered (“with him one thousand years is but as a day,” 2 Peter, 3:8); and, moreover, if it be borne in mind that for each one the general judgment commences virtually at death. The Apostle wishes to refer to the general judgment in preference to the particular, which shall take place at the death of each one; because, it shall be a solemn ratification of the sentence passed at particular judgment, and a public declaration, before all the nations of the earth, of the quality of each man’s works. Hence, when referring here, in accordance with his usual custom, to the general judgment under which the particular is included, he refers also directly to the fire of conflagration, which shall usher in that day, and shall be purgatorial of the good, who are not perfectly free from stain. Under this fire of conflagration, however, the fire of Purgatory must be included, in which the just who die in venial sin, or liable to temporary punishment for mortal sins already remitted, shall be punished, but still saved through the purifying influence of this fire. We must hold that under the fire of conflagration, which is similar in its effects to the fire of Purgatory, the latter fire is included by the Apostle, or, hold one or other of the following propositions, viz.: that the men who, in the day of the Apostle, and all subsequent ages, built “wood, hay, and stubble,” are not to be admitted into heaven before the day of judgment, and to be reserved for the saving effects of the fire of conflagration—an error condemned by the Church—(Council of Florence, last Session; Benedict XII., the successor of John XXII., had also condemned the same as heretical); or, that the lot of those venial transgressors, who shall have died during all ages preceding the fire of conflagration, shall be better than the lot of those who shall be alive then, which cannot be admitted either; for, it is in reference to the men of his own day that the Apostle says, they “shall be saved as if by fire,” “they shall suffer punishment,”—“their work shall burn,” i.e., they themselves shall be subjected to burning on account of their work. Hence, if we understand, the entire passage directly of the fire of conflagration, under it must be included the fire which, in reference to some men who shall have died in all preceding ages, “shall try every man’s work,” and cause “his work,” i.e., himself, “to burn” on account of the work, but still shall save him. This is what Catholics call the fire of Purgatory. Whatever interpretation of the passage may be adopted by any one who does not wish to pervert the sense of Sacred Scripture, the Apostle must be understood to speak of the fire of Purgatory, as it alone could affect those whom he addresses. To it alone could the words, “the day of the Lord,” apply, at least immediately with reference to the Corinthian teachers, for whom, in the first instance, he intends the threat here enunciated.

“As if by fire.” The words; “as if,” do not exclude the reality. The Greek is ὡς δια πυρός, as by fire. The words are used in the first verse of this chapter to express Reality, “as if carnal,” though he immediately expressly says, they were really carnal “are you not carnal?”—(See also Gospel of St. John, 1:14). The words “as if” are used for no other purpose than to institute a comparison between the escape of such a person and that of a man narrowly escaping through fire.

16. The Apostle now returns to the subject from which he had digressed at verse 10, for the purpose of reminding the teachers of their duty; and following up the metaphor of the building, he says, the Corinthians are not only the building, but “the temple,” or sacred building of the Lord, “and that the Spirit of God,” &c. “And” has the meaning of because in this passage, “because the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

17. He here points out the fate of those who, instead of building on the foundation, subvert it by preaching false doctrine, or by corrupt morals. “Violate,” (in Greek, φθειρει, corrupt), they shall not be “saved by fire,” but eternally destroyed. While addressing the people directly, the lesson is intended for the corrupters of their faith or morals. Those, therefore, who, by word or example, are instrumental in ruining the souls of their brethren, are guilty of a spiritual sacrilege, and shall be punished more severely than were even the violators of God’s material temple, or the profaners of sacred things, of which we have examples in Balthasar, Athalia, and Heliodorus. (Daniel 5:2; Paralip. 23; 2 Maccabees, 4:27).

18. Having pointed but the lot of the different builders, on the day of judgment—the perfect to be rewarded; the imperfect, saved by fire; and the wicked eternally destroyed—the Apostle now again addresses an admonition to those teachers, who prided in the possession of superior worldly accomplishments, and secular wisdom. He tells them not to be deceived, as if each teacher shall not be treated, as has been already explained, some saved by fire, others damned. “If any one among you seem to be wise in this world,” i.e., have a character for worldly wisdom, “let him become a fool,” according to this world, by reducing his intellect to captivity, “in obedience to” Christian faith, and by proposing the doctrines of faith to others in a simple way, which is folly with the world. “That he may be wise,” according to God. The Apostle here strikes at the root of the Corinthian schism, viz., an affectation of superior wisdom on the part of the teachers, and an undue value attached to the same by the people. It is not unlikely that he refers to those men who were attempting to destroy the spiritual temple of God in the souls of men. These he exhorts to lay aside all pretensions to the character of worldly wisdom, and to become fools according to the world by reducing their intellect to captivity, unto the obedience of faith.

19. He assigns a reason for rejecting human wisdom, viz., because it has been rejected by God, in the work of salvation, and regarded by him in no better light than folly; it even proves noxious and injurious to our salvation. (“I will catch the wise,” &c.) In the Greek, ὁ δρασσομενος τους σοφους, “he it is,” viz., God, “that catchcth the wise in their craftiness” that is, he shall frustrate and turn the schemes of the crafty against themselves, so as to educe therefrom the very ends they are desirous to prevent, as in the case of Joseph’s brethren, and also in the case of the devil, whose empire the crucifixion of Christ destroyed; or, the words may mean, that he shall elude all the craftiness of the worldly wise. The words are quoted from the 5th chapter of Job, according to the Hebrew, and they are the words, not of Job, but of his friend, Eliphaz.

20. This is from Psalm 93:11; “the thoughts,” διαλογισμους, i.e., the devices or plans “of the wise.” In the Psalm it is “the thoughts of men,” but St. Paul here applies to the powerful, and those desirous of a character for wisdom, what is said of men in general by the Psalmist.

21. This, then, is the conclusion which the Apostle derives from the foregoing; since all human wisdom and power are utterly worthless, they should not glory in any man, nor in any teacher beyond another. Far from glorying in any creatures, we should refer all glory to God alone, whose ministers the different preachers of the gospel are.

22. The words of this verse convey the same as the passage in the Epistle to the Romans, “all things work together unto good for them that love God.”—(Rom. 8:28). “All things are yours,” i.e., subservient and ancillary to your salvation. “Paul,” &c., all the preachers of the Gospel announce it for your salvation; “the world,” all creatures are intended by God to lead you to him; “or life,” to acquire merits during its continuance; “or death,” which is a passage unto glory; “or things present,” all the gifts of grace or nature which you now enjoy, point to the glory in store for you; “or things to come,” all the gifts of glory which are held forth as so many motives for encouragement to perseverance, “all are yours.”

23. “And you are Christ’s.” Christ, as man, has purchased you, and hence, you are his, by right of purchase, “and Christ is God’s.” All creatures are intended for the use and benefit of man, but man himself is destined to enjoy God hereafter, and promote his glory here. Therefore, we should seek to promote in all our words and actions the glory of God alone, “whether we eat, or whether we drink, or whatever else we do we should seek the glory of God.”—(1 Cor. 10:31). “The Lord hath made all things for himself.”—(Prov 16:4) “I the Lord, this is my name; I will not give my glory to another.”—(Isaias, 42:8). To us God has given the benefit of his gifts, but the glory of them he has inalienably reserved to himself. For God then we are created. We are here below only in a state of probation—a place of exile. Heaven and God is our end, our final, eternal enjoyment. What folly, then, to engage in any pursuit, to indulge in any enjoyment which would imperil this great end of our being, and, which, besides entailing an irreparable loss of infinite good, of boundless happiness, would involve us in excruciating tortures, which would end only with God, and of the never-ending duration of which we would be irresistibly conscious every moment that we suffered; thus bearing, each moment, the entire torture of Eternity—pondus eternitatis. “Notum fac mihi, Domine, finem meum … ut sciam quid desit mihi.”—(Psalm 38:5). What torture so dreadful as when sentence of eternal damnation is first made known to the trembling soul, at judgment after a dreadful state of suspense?

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