And said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief
Which may have regard both to his general character as a sorcerer, and a false prophet; in acting up to which he used much deceit and cunning among the people, and did much mischief to them; to which there was a promptness and readiness in him, as the word used signifies; and also to the sophistry he used, and the mischief he endeavoured to do in seeking to turn the deputy from the faith. The minds of carnal men are vain and empty, and destitute of all that is good, and full of all that is evil: their character is,
filled with all unrighteousness,
( Romans 1:29 ) . They have many of them a great deal of wit, but it is wicked wit, and they employ it in an evil and mischievous way, both to the hurt of themselves and others; they are like the old serpent, whose seed they are, who was more subtle than any beast of the field; they are wiser in their generation than the children of light; they are wise to do evil, though they have no knowledge of what is spiritually good; they are able to form very cunning and artful schemes, to commit sin, and do mischief; for all their craft and subtlety are used in such a way; nor can they sleep, or be easy in their minds, unless they are doing mischief.
Thou child of the devil;
perhaps alluding to his name, that instead of Bar-Jesus, the son of a saviour, he should have been called Bar-Satan, the son of Satan, or Ben-Belial, a son of Belial. The phrase (Njv rwkb) , "the firstborn of Satan", is used by the Jews, sometimes in a good sense, for one that is acute, sharp, and subtle, and that abides by his doctrine, and does his work F19: but here a child of the devil is used in an ill sense, for being like him in wicked cunning and subtlety; in like sense as the other phrase was used by Polycarp, whom Marcion the heretic met, and said unto him, know us; to whom Polycarp replied, I know thee, the firstborn of Satan F20: thou enemy of all righteousness; a wicked man is an enemy to all righteousness in every branch of it, in whatsoever light it may be considered: he is an enemy, yea, enmity itself against God the righteous being, and who is the fountain of all righteousness; he is an enemy to Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the Lord our righteousness; he is an enemy to that righteousness which he has wrought out; he is an enemy to all righteous persons, and hates their holy and righteous conversation; he is an enemy to the law, and cannot be subject to it, which is the rule of righteousness; and he is an enemy to the Gospel, which reveals the righteousness of God from faith to faith, and teaches men to live soberly, righteously, and godly; in short he is an enemy to all righteousness, moral and evangelical.
Wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?
the doctrines and ordinances of Christ, in which he has directed his people to walk; which this man, through his sophistry and wickedness, in which he was industrious and indefatigable, endeavoured to render intricate and obscure, when they were plain, and straight, and easy. "For the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them", ( Hosea 14:9 ) they are right, and it is becoming such to walk in them; they are plain to them that have a true knowledge of them, even wayfaring men, though fools shall not err in them; they are entirely consistent with the righteousness and holiness of God, and lead right on to eternal glory and happiness. Christ himself is the true way to eternal life, which is plainly pointed, and clearly directed to in the word of God, and by the ministers of the Gospel, who show unto men the way of salvation; the path of truth is fully described, and such things said of it as are very inviting to walk in it; and good men cannot but choose and delight to walk in it, when led into it by the Spirit of truth: Wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths of peace; even all the paths of duty and worship, the ways of righteousness and holiness; but wicked men seek to pervert these ways, to give a false account of them, to set them in a wrong light, and represent them not only as rough and troublesome, but as dangerous, and leading to ruin; and do all they can to hinder persons from entering into them, and to cause those to stumble who are in them; nor will they cease acting this wicked part; they are continually at work to make the ways of Christ odious, to set people against them, to discourage from walking in them by their opposition to them, the false glosses they put upon them, and by their scoffs and jeers at those that walk in them, and by their violent persecutions of them, when it is in their power.
F19 T. Hieros. Yebamot, fol. 3. 1. & T. Rab. Yebamot, fol. 16, 1. & Juchasin, fol. 14. 1. & 55. 1.
F20 Irenaeus adv. Haeres. l. 3. c. 3.