Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

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.”

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Your Neighbor’s Slop

It is a universal law that all men seek their own advantage. It is obvious by reflecting on one’s own motives, it is obvious by looking at one’s neighbors and at the history of humanity. It is an inescapable reality that parents know, that philosophers and policy makers write about, and that advertisers depend on. Every human being thinks about himself or herself first.

The question is not if this is true, the question is if this is good. It’s hard for most of us in conservative Christian circles to consider, but if there was no god, what would be bad about self-interest and self-preservation? Or for those who grew up in a culture with a pantheon of selfish gods, knowing that we become like what we worship, a culture of self-firsters makes sense.

Worldly wise men have even attempted to build nations on the principle. Thomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan provides a perfect example. Here’s his argument (in my words, not his). Men are pigs, but they can’t help being pigs. Don’t tell them that being a pig is bad, just try to convince them that they’ll actually get more slop overall by not stealing their neighbor’s slop. If the neighbors get mad they might kill you, meaning less slop for you. Fear is a powerful motivator.

God’s Spirit says that this is fleshly. The self-principle in man produces immorality, impurity, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, and “things like these” (Galatians 5:19-20). It is natural, but it’s not good.

The alternative is to walk by the Spirit and “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). Of course it’s natural for us to listen to our flesh, and this is why we need to meditate on the cross. As John Owen might have told Hobbes, “Be killing self or it will be killing you.”