Calvary Road Baptist Church

“REVISITING THIS MATTER OF ASSURANCE”, Part 2

(False assurance of salvation)

 

Last week I presented to you the general approach taken to give the assurance of one’s salvation from the perspective of independent Baptists, which camp I have been squarely in for thirty-five years. I introduced you to a book written by a well known and widely respected preacher named Buddy Murphrey, that was endorsed by such a wide range of well-known independent fundamental Baptist and Southern Baptist pastors and evangelists that few would deny that it represented, if not the mainstream of Christianity, then the majority view of theologically conservative Baptists in the last half of the twentieth century. I observed that it was generally held that assurance of salvation is seen as something distinct from salvation, as evidenced by the tendency to encourage soul winners to give new converts assurance of their salvation after leading them in the sinner’s prayer.

I feel that I should remind you once again that I am solidly in the Baptist mainstream concerning eternal security, and am not of Arminian or Pelagian persuasion so as to reckon it even possible for one who is genuinely born again to ever fall so far away from the Christian faith that he loses or throws away the gift of God which is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. However, assurance of salvation is another thing altogether different from the security of the believer. That said, I take serious issue with the most prominent approach to giving assurance of salvation after leading a soul to Christ that has been so popular in the last decades of the twentieth century.

Once again, I read to you the approach used by Buddy Murphrey, in his book “Drawing The Net,” that I read to you last week. Let me reiterate that his book, and therefore his approach, was endorsed by John R. Rice, Lee Roberson, Hyman Appleman, John Bisagno, Tom Malone, W. A. Criswell, R. G. Lee, J. Harold Smith, Freddie Gage, Oswald J. Smith who wrote the forward, and Lester Roloff, Jack Hyles, and Joe Boyd, to whom the book is dedicated. With such endorsements, it is once again safe to say that the approach used by Buddy Murphrey to give a person who just prayed the sinner’s prayer assurance of his salvation was the approach that dominated the twentieth century leaders in evangelism and personal soul winning.

Lesson 20 is his chapter titled “Drawing The Net,” in which he prescribes a technique whereby the soul winner gets “the prospect to cross the line to salvation.[1] After leading the sinner through a twelve step approach that includes persuading him to grasp and then squeeze the soul winner’s hand while he prays, then thanking God for his decision, the author turns his attention to giving assurance of salvation:

 

13. AFTER FINISHING YOUR PRAYER, LEAD HIM TO ASSURANCE FROM THE WORD.

 

This is the third time the sinner is brought to the place of exercising faith in Christ. If, perhaps, he failed to “believe” when he prayed and even when he took your hand, it is possible he will release his faith at this time. It is not wise to get up from the prayer meeting and say, “Now, John, you are a Christian.” We do not want to put words in his mouth and give him a false assurance. It has been my experience many times, that while leading the person into assurance through the Word, he actually exercised the initial faith unto salvation.

 

EXAMPLE:. “John, according to this verse (pointing to Revelation 3:20) where would you go if you were to die right now? (To heaven.) Why would you go to heaven? (Because Jesus came into my heart.) Well, John, how do you know that He came into your heart? (Because He said so right here.) In other words you are taking Christ at His promise today? You believe then that since you have opened your heart for Jesus, you are convinced that he has kept his promise and has come into your heart and saved you? (Yes.) Alright, John, tell me, who saved you? (Jesus did.) What did He save you from? (Sin and Hell.) That is right. And John, since Jesus has come into your heart today, what has He given you? (Eternal life.) That’s right, eternal life. If it is eternal, how long will you have it? (Forever.)”

 

“John. suppose that someone tomorrow would ask you, ‘John, are you a Christian?’ What would you say? (Yes.) Suppose they ask you when you became a Christian. What would you say? (Yesterday.) In other words you believe that right here today is the time at you have gotten it settled for men and eternity? (Yes.) You believe that today as been your day of salvation? (Yes.) John, this is what I would do if I were you I would take my Bible and write in the front cover today’s date. Put down, ‘June 19, 1969, at 3:40 P.M., in my living room.’ I would also write ‘Revelation 3:20, the promise that you claimed today. And John. jot another verse down there, “Hebrews 13:5,’ where Jesus says that He will never forsake nor leave us. If He came into your heart today, and He has promised never to leave you, then He is yours forever. If you are tempted to doubt your salvation later, you can come back to your Bible and open it to these two verses and stand on His precious promises.”[2]

 

The soul winner’s dealings with the supposed new Christian do not end here. The personal evangelist is next directed to persuade his subject to commit to “walking the aisle” the next Sunday morning at church and to make a public profession of faith. He offers to pick the subject up and drive him to Sunday School, to sit with him during in the church service, and then to offer to go forward with him during the invitation at the conclusion of the service. This is obviously done to get the new convert into the baptistry.

You may remember me pointing out that none of the prominent men I have mentioned seems to have taken the trouble to define assurance of salvation, so I turned to others. If assurance of salvation is “assurance” or “certainty,” as Lutheran scholar Francis Pieper[3] said it was in 1957, or if “assurance is a confidence that right relations exist between one’s self and God,” as Lewis Sperry Chafer[4] said it was in 1948, or if assurance is the doctrine that teaches the possibility of Christians knowing that they are truly children of God, as Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling[5] said it was in 1999, then I have a serious problem with the approach to giving assurance of salvation taken by my Baptist brethren in the last half of the twentieth century.

To recapitulate, we know how those in the last half of the twentieth century, from Jack Hyles, John R. Rice, Lee Roberson, and Tom Malone among the independent Baptists, to W. A. Criswell, Freddie Gage, and Hyman Appleman among the Southern Baptists, as well as D. James Kennedy among the evangelistic and conservative Presbyterians, approached the matter of assurance of salvation. They sought to employ a set formula approach to win the lost to Christ, culminating in leading the sinner in some version of a “sinner’s prayer,” not unusually a prayer whereby the sinner would ask Jesus into his heart, followed by an effort to impart assurance of salvation to the “new Christian.” The soul winning encounter would conclude by seeking a commitment to attend Sunday School the following Sunday, and also to make a public profession of faith by “walking the aisle” during a public invitation after the Sunday morning sermon, in the hopes the now assured subject would follow the Lord in believer’s baptism.

Allow me to address this entire approach to giving assurance and getting the subject baptized:

 

First, THIS APPROACH COMPLETELY IGNORES THE POSSIBILITY THE SUBJECT IS STILL UNSAVED

 

It has been my observation over the years that anyone who prays the sinner’s prayer is assumed to be saved, and that to question the subject’s salvation is to invite criticism. Years ago, our church conducted an evangelistic campaign with a well-known and very capable preacher, who I personally like very much. On the last night of the crusade, more than fifty adults responded to the invitation and came forward to receive Christ. A worker I had extensively trained dealt with each subject, and each one professed to have received Christ. Yet, when I wrote a letter to a nationally recognized fundamental Baptist periodical rejoicing over these “hopeful converts,” I received a letter from the editor severely criticizing me for daring to question the reality of their conversion experiences by referring to them as “hopeful converts.” This is not an isolated reaction. There is little toleration in our movement for wondering if everyone who prayers the sinner’s prayer is genuinely converted.

Yet Murphrey writes,

 

This is the third time the sinner is brought to the place of exercising faith in Christ. If, perhaps, he failed to “believe” when he prayed and even when he took your hand, it is possible he will release his faith at this time. It is not wise to get up from the prayer meeting and say, “Now, John, you are a Christian.” We do not want to put words in his mouth and give him a false assurance. It has been my experience many times, that while leading the person into assurance through the Word, he actually exercised the initial faith unto salvation.[6]

 

Murphrey seems to recognize that the previous times during the soul winning session the subject may very well not have truly trusted Christ, and it is possible he will “release his faith at this time.”[7] My question is, If it is possible the subject was not truly saved the first two times, how can anyone be sure the third time? On what basis is assurance given to someone who may not be saved? On what basis is a series of events set into motion that may result in an unconverted person being baptized after recognizing that it is entirely possible faith was not placed in Christ?

To be sure, Murphrey recommends a series of questions to ask the subject to review the material covered with him. However, it is the experience of thousands of soul winners that correctly responding to such questions is no guarantee of being genuinely born again. Salvation, and assurance, involves so much more than knowing the right answers to fairly simple questions.

 

Next, THIS APPROACH TO GIVING ASSURANCE IS LINKED TO A PAST EVENT

 

Notice that Murphrey encourages the soul winner to give assurance using this sample conversation:

 

“John, this is what I would do if I were you I would take my Bible and write in the front cover today’s date. Put down, ‘June 19, 1969, at 3:40 P.M., in my living room.’ I would also write ‘Revelation 3:20, the promise that you claimed today. And John. jot another verse down there, “Hebrews 13:5,’ where Jesus says that He will never forsake nor leave us. If He came into your heart today, and He has promised never to leave you, then He is yours forever. If you are tempted to doubt your salvation later, you can come back to your Bible and open it to these two verses and stand on His precious promises.”[8]

 

May I point out that there is no place in the Bible where one’s assurance of salvation is based on any reference to something that a sinner did in the past? Therefore, it is no surprise to me that nowhere does the author makes use of the Word of God to justify looking to the past for assurance. To be sure, he does make reference to several passages, but he misinterprets them. More on them later.

On what authority, pray tell, does a person derive something as important as assurance of his soul’s salvation by referring to a date and time written on the flyleaf of his Bible? As well, if what Murphrey advises is scripturally sound, why is it an approach to giving assurance to new converts that appears more than nineteen hundred years into the Christian era, but was nowhere to be found before then? Are we so much more knowledgeable than Whitefield, Spurgeon, and the Wesleys?

 

Third, THIS APPROACH TO GIVING ASSURANCE IS DISCONNECTED FROM PIETY

 

Where in Murphrey’s exhortations to give assurance is there any reference to personal holiness, to a changed life, to consecration, to any semblance of transformation, or to the new creature?

To be sure, since an attempt at giving assurance is urged moments after the subject has prayed a sinner’s prayer and is hopefully (should I say presumably) saved, there is little opportunity for anyone, even a truly converted person, to actually demonstrate personal piety, to leave off the boozing, and break off the sinful relationship, and to show forth the new life in Christ.

However, this begs the question about whether it is God’s will for anyone to be assured of his salvation before he has had time to show by a changed life that he really is saved. In other words, the kind of assurance Murphrey counsels is an assurance divorced from the subject’s conduct. Is this a good thing? Is this even scriptural? I challenge the notion that it is.

 

Fourth, THIS APPROACH TO GIVING ASSURANCE IS ACTUALLY MANIPULATIVE

 

Manipulation is defined by Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary as the shrewd use of influence.[9] I submit to you that is exactly what I and thousands of other Bible college students were trained to do over the last half of the twentieth century, taking the opportunity when dealing with someone momentarily subject to our control to persuade him, even though we may not have been persuaded ourselves, that he is saved.

On what basis is anyone to presume that someone who has prayed a sinner’s prayer has really prayed at all? Or that the words he mouthed resulted in, or are in any way associated with, his soul’s salvation? Yet soul winners are coached to give assurance, not to someone who exhibits any evidence of a new life in Christ, but to someone who has engaged in mimicry, repeating words someone uttered moments before as though such mimicry results in the salvation of a soul.

Please do not misunderstand. I am not addressing in any way whether the subject was or was not saved when he was dealt with by the soul winner. My issue is that moments after praying a sinner’s prayer, neither the subject nor the soul winner knows what, if anything, happened, so attempting to give assurance is entirely inappropriate. To give assurance when someone is so vulnerable, and possibly lost, really is the shrewd use of influence.

Imagine what spiritual harm is done, the damage to the subject, if he has been persuaded he should be sure of a relationship with Jesus Christ that he simply does not enjoy. These are eternal and undying souls we are dealing with, and we need to be careful when dealing with people.

 

Fifth, THIS APPROACH TO GIVING ASSURANCE INVOLVES MISUSING SCRIPTURE

 

Murphrey uses two verses that he misapplies, and there is another verse commonly used in our movement that is also misapplied to give a subject assurance:

First, turn to Revelation 3.20, where Jesus said to the angel of the church in Laodicea, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Listen to Charles Spurgeon’s comment on this verse from Spurgeon’s Devotional Commentary, to understand where these words of our Lord are really coming from: “Jesus seeks fellowship with the church as the best means of restoring her. Communion with Jesus makes the heart burn with love, and effectually chases away the lukewarm spirit.”[10] In days gone by the occasional commentator would misconstrue this verse and apply it to an individual sinner, and might even suggest the door mentioned to be the door to the sinner’s heart. There is no harm done by such if the verse is handled carefully. However, the verse has been seriously misused of late, especially since the famous sermon “My Heart - Christ’s Home” by Robert Boyd Munger was popularized in the late 1940s and early 1950s by evangelist Billy Graham. In that sermon the sinner’s heart is likened to a home into which Christ is invited. The problem, of course, is that there is no mention of sin, no mention of cleansing, no mention of repentance, and by misapplying the verse it makes room for the entrance of the Roman Catholic concept of the infusion of grace into a sinner’s heart to make him good enough to merit heaven, as opposed to the Biblical concept of the outside-of-you justification of the sinner by the exalted Savior. In any event, with more than twenty separate verses in the Bible showing the exalted Jesus to be at His Father’s right hand in heaven, the use of this verse and comments about Jesus being in the sinner’s heart, without clarifying that His presence in the Christian’s heart is through the indwelling Holy Spirit, seeking to impart assurance using this verse is a misapplication.

Next, Murphrey makes mention of Hebrews 13.5, which reads, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” This verse, particularly the last half, is a wonderful encouragement to the child of God, especially when someone is experiencing dark times of affliction and discouragement. My question, however, is what is the basis for applying this wonderful verse to someone who has just prayed a sinner’s prayer, and who may or may not be genuinely saved? Do you really want to give assurance of salvation, or to put it another way, do you really want to convince someone who may very well be lost that Jesus will never leave him? That would be criminal.

Finally, there is a verse that I was strongly encouraged to use when I was in Bible college, but which I am surprised Buddy Murphrey does not resort to to give assurance in his book. The verse is First John 5.13: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” First, let me point out that one of the purposes for writing First John was to give assurance of salvation to those genuinely converted. However, it is a travesty to use this single verse, First John 5.13, a part of the conclusion of this epistle, to give assurance without giving the subject an opportunity to read what the Apostle wrote, so his assurance might be based upon the entirety of the book instead of a single verse. More directly to the point of my message this evening, however, is that when this verse is used in isolation to give assurance to someone who has just prayed the sinner’s prayer, the subject does not really know for sure, and the soul winner cannot possibly know for sure, if the subject really has believed to the saving of his soul. Murphrey admitted as much in his book. As well, there are several examples in the New Testament of people believing in Jesus without actually being saved, having some kind of faith that was not actually saving faith. John 2.23-24 is one example: “many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men.” Simon the magician is another example, who believed and was baptized, Acts 8.13, but later showed himself lost. My friends, the real reason Murphrey misapplies verses to give assurance to a subject immediately following the sinner’s prayer, is because there are no verses to be found in the Bible to give real assurance so soon after conversion, even if conversion did occur.

 

Sixth, THIS APPROACH ENABLES MISCONDUCT WITHOUT LOSS OF ASSURANCE

 

I am ashamed to know a preacher who has pastored five Baptist churches over the last thirty years, and has been a foreign missionary as well during that time. As near as I can tell, and missionary Bro. K can attest to the accuracy of my estimation, that man has committed adultery everywhere he has been, and in one location committed adultery with almost two dozen women.

How does such a man as this avoid losing the assurance of his salvation? How does another pastor admit to consorting with prostitutes every weekend for six years after his supposed conversion, maintaining to this day that he could do such a thing and still be a Christian? I submit to you that when assurance is rooted in the distant past of a person’s life, when it is rooted in a date and time written on the flyleaf of a Bible, and when it is reinforced by misapplied scripture and disconnected from one’s behavior, it is no wonder that even lost folks can be given the false assurance of a salvation they have never experienced.

Another example will leave you shaking your head. There is a man pastoring in the San Diego area who once preached for a friend of mine on a Sunday night. As a matter of course, my friend asked the fellow, who was quite young at that time, to recount his conversion testimony to his associate before the church service began, so he might pick up on anything that would confuse the lost in attendance. The young preacher actually told his associate that he had no memory at all of being saved, but that whenever he had experienced doubts growing up in a preacher’s home, his mother always reassured him by reminding him that she was present when he was saved, and that she was quite sure he was okay.

I am persuaded that the typical approach to giving assurance results in many people, among other oversights, being guilty of seriously misreading the importance of two passages in Paul’s Corinthian letters, First Corinthians 6.9-11 and Second Corinthians 5.17: First Corinthians 6.9-11 would seem to most Christians to be very straightforward:

 

9      Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

10     Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

11     And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

 

Here Paul challenges the ignorance of the Corinthian church members for seriously misunderstanding the transformation that should be expected from those converted to Christ, and warns that certain kinds of sins are so characteristic of the unsaved that, though possible, it is hardly to be expected that Christians will continue in this kind of behavior. Such people will not inherit the kingdom of God, Paul points out in both verse nine and verse 10. Christians are no longer characterized by such behavior, he declares in verse 11. Second Corinthians 5.17 would seem to be as straightforward: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” However, to justify their continuance in their sins, many have explained this verse away by claiming that it does not describe the Christian’s life experience, but the Christian’s position and standing as believers. So you see, both by completely overlooking First Corinthians 6.9-10, and by so completely misinterpreting Second Corinthians 5.17, two passages which should utterly deprive those who simply do not live the Christian of the false assurance they have been convinced of have been for all intents and purposes “dehorned” of their thrust.

Let me assert as strongly as I am able that if Pieper’s understanding of assurance is scriptural, if Chafer’s understanding of assurance is scriptural, and if Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling’s understanding of assurance is scriptural, and I am convinced they are, then someone who is involved in a pattern of serious sins has no business being assured of his salvation. God’s plan has never been for anyone involved in serious sinning to be assured of his salvation, but for the godly believer to be assured of his salvation, otherwise what would the motivation be for holiness?

 

Seventh, THIS APPROACH TO GIVING ASSURANCE IGNORES DISPENSATAIONAL TRUTH

 

I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard preachers declare David and his adultery with Bathsheba to be a prime example of the security God provides a believer, without any apparent consideration of the effect such statements might have to weaken the resolve Christians need to have to resist the temptations they face to commit sexual sins. There are two failings in the logic of using David’s adultery as a comfort to Christians facing the temptations we are so constantly bombarded with in our permissive society, with both of them related to the refusal of preachers to observe the dispensational distinctive of David’s life under the Law of Moses before Christ and our own time under the reign of grace after Christ’s ascension.

First, there is the faulty logic of failing to remember that not only was David guilty of adultery, but also of conspiring to have one of his trusted men murdered. David, you will also remember, not only had many wives, but God told him that had he only asked for more God would have given him more wives, Second Samuel 12.8. Thus, is the Christian in our day to be permitted multiple wives, as well as murdering a trusted bodyguard, without questioning the reality of his faith? I think not.

Then, there is the faulty logic of failing to remember that Solomon, David’s son, lived under the same economy as his father. Yet First Kings 11.3 informs us that Solomon “had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines.” If you are going to compare yourself to David, then you must also compare yourself to Solomon. Should we accept a man’s claim that he is a Christian who has had relations with several women, after his supposed conversion? Then how about a man claiming to be a Christian who has been with hundreds of women?

My friends, we live in a different dispensation than David and Solomon did, a different dispensation than Jacob did with his two wives. Therefore, it is very clear to reasonable men that while godly men were sometimes married to more than one woman at a time in the past days of spiritual dimness, the light of scripture truth shines more brightly in our day when the Bible is complete, and it is clear that when someone engages in sexual activity with one to whom he or she is not married, it must at least be presumed, until deeper investigation shows otherwise, that person is not saved.

So many people argue against the clear teaching of Scripture by saying much about the grace of God to keep them through their wickedness, but never seem to speak of the grace of God to keep from committing such sins in the first place.

 

Finally, THIS APPROACH TO GIVING ASSURANCE FLIES IN THE FACE OF CLEAR DECLARATIONS OF SCRIPTURE

 

The current approach employed by most to give assurance of salvation is so egregious in its effect on people, both those genuinely saved and those not saved, that most members of Baptist churches honestly think there is no necessary connection between a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ and that same person’s manner of life. To them, Christ makes a difference only for one’s destiny and not for one’s conduct and style of life.

To put it another way, I know many people who have such assurance of their salvation from this bogus approach to assurance, that though they have not read their Bibles in years, have not ever prayed with any consistency, have not attended church, or tithed, or served God at any time, and they have fixed in their mind an event in the past in which they had some type of experience they have interpreted as a saving experience, which is the only experience of a spiritual nature they can lay claim to.

The Word of God does not support that kind of assurance in any form or fashion. Rather than describe what the foundation for real assurance of salvation is in the Bible (which I will begin doing next week, Lord willing), allow me to show you that God does not save a person to then be done with him until it is time for heaven. God’s salvation is not ever a singular event followed by nothing, but is a singular event that is followed by an ongoing work in a Christian’s life.

We return to Second Corinthians 5.17 once more: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Philippians 1.6: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” In other words, the person who claims he was saved at a revival meeting in 1987, but has not faithfully attended church in 18 years, has never tithed, has no idea what serving God entails, and basically sits on his can while everyone else pulls the load, though he did live with a woman for three years when he was younger, is not saved and has no basis for having assurance except the say so of some poor fellow who was woefully misinformed.

 

What passes for assurance of salvation these days would be laughable if its effects were not so tragic. Imagine all the people who seem to think they are Christians, who have concluded that they have assurance of salvation, only it bears no resemblance to the assurance spoken of in the Bible. Can you imagine how difficult it is to bring someone to Christ who has been given such faulty assurance of salvation that I have spoken of and illustrated tonight? How does that approach to giving assurance harmonize with Hebrews 12.14, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord”? It doesn’t. Whatever the scriptural doctrine of assurance of salvation is discovered to be, I can guarantee you one thing: It must be linked somehow and in some way to personal holiness, because without holiness no man shall see the Lord.

I know that I will be criticized for what may be wrongly perceived as taking away the assurance of salvation that comforts some Christians, however, I am prepared to replace the false approach to assurance that I have criticized with the Scriptural approach that has for too long and by too many been ignored.



[1] Buddy Murphrey, Drawing The Net, (Corpus Christi, TX: Buddy Murphrey, 1969), pages 34.

[2] Ibid., pages 38-39.

[3] Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Volume IV, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1957), pages 38-40, 87-90.

[4] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. VII, (Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), page 21.

[5] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), page 17.

[6] Murphrey, page 38.

[7] I am unaware of Murphrey explaining precisely what this phrase means in his book.

[8] Ibid., pages 38-39.

[9] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 1096.

[10] Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon Devotional Commentary, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), bible@mail.com



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