April 12, 2021

Hectic Fever

I had a moment of providential connection at our small group meeting last Friday that, I believe, has application on a few fronts, for wisdom and courage and holiness, which are distinguishable fronts but also share the same heart.

We were talking about our Christian responsibilities in a world of lies and trouble and tyrants. This is where wisdom is so necessary, for sake or recognizing our situation and knowing how to respond. It reminded me of a phrase and condition I had read about: hectic fever.

Niccolo Machiavelli described it in his book on statecraft, The Prince (AD 1532).

hectic fever…in its beginning it is easy to cure, but hard to recognize; whereas, after a time, not having been detected and treated at the first, it becomes easy to recognize but impossible to cure.

Machiavelli meant it as counsel to rulers to be wise in how they deal with disorder below them.

The same condition, however, was also referred to by Junius Brutus less than 50 years later in his Vindicia Contra Tyrannos (AD 1579).

For tyranny may be properly resembled unto a fever hectic, the which at the first is easy to be cured, but with much difficulty to be known; but after it is sufficiently known, it becomes incurable.

Machiavelli was looking down, Brutus was looking up, both ways could go bad. For leaders, and for those who would not be overrun by bad leaders, early wisdom and quick courage are advantageous.

But the image also applies regarding sin. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils (1 Timothy 6:10), kill it quickly. There is a root of bitterness that springs up into great trouble (Hebrews 12:15), pluck it out. One too many glasses of wine? Too loose with your timecard, stealing from your employer? A small sin can grow into a devouring dragon. Be honest, be ruthless for your sake, for the body’s sake. As John Owen wrote, Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”


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