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Acts 7:51

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Ye stiff-necked - Σκληροτραχηλοι . A metaphor taken from untoward oxen, who cannot be broken into the yoke; and whose strong necks cannot be bended to the right or the left.

Uncircumcised in heart and ears - This was a Jewish mode of speech, often used by the prophets. Circumcision was instituted, not only as a sign and seal of the covenant into which the Israelites entered with their Maker, but also as a type of that purity and holiness which the law of God requires; hence there was an excision of what was deemed not only superfluous but also injurious; and by this cutting off, the propensity to that crime which ruins the body, debases the mind, and was generally the forerunner of idolatry, was happily lessened. It would be easy to prove this, were not the subject too delicate. Where the spirit of disobedience was found, where the heart was prone to iniquity, and the ears impatient of reproof and counsel, the person is represented as uncircumcised in those parts, because devoted to iniquity, impatient of reproof, and refusing to obey. In Pirkey Eliezer, chap. 29, "Rabbi Seira said, There are five species of uncircumcision in the world; four in man, and one in trees. Those in man are the following: -

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  1. Uncircumcision of the Ear. Behold, their Ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken, Jeremiah 6:10.

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  • The uncircumcision of the Lips. How shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised Lips? Exodus 6:12.
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  • Uncircumcision of Heart. If then their uncircumcised Hearts be humbled, Leviticus 26:41. Circumcise therefore the Foreskin of Your Heart, Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4. For all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the Heart, Jeremiah 9:26.
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  • The uncircumcision of the Flesh. Ye shall circumcise the Flesh of your Foreskin, etc., Genesis 17:11."
  • Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost -
    1. Because they were uncircumcised in heart, they always resisted the influences of the Holy Spirit, bringing light and conviction to their minds; in consequence of which they became hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and neither repented at the preaching of John, nor credited the glad tidings told them by Christ and the apostles.
  • Because they were uncircumcised in ears, they would neither hear nor obey Moses, the prophets, Christ, nor the apostles.
  • As your fathers did, so do ye -

    They were disobedient children, of disobedient parents: in all their generations they had been disobedient and perverse. This whole people, as well as this text, are fearful proofs that the Holy Spirit, the almighty energy of the living God, may be resisted and rendered of none effect. This Spirit is not sent to stocks, stones, or machines, but to human beings endued with rational souls; therefore it is not to work on them with that irresistible energy which it must exert on inert matter, in order to conquer the vis inertiae or disposition to abide eternally in a motionless state, which is the state of all inanimate beings; but it works upon understanding, will, judgment, conscience, etc., in order to enlighten, convince, and persuade. If, after all, the understanding, the eye of the mind, refuses to behold the light; the will determines to remain obstinate; the judgment purposes to draw false inferences; and the conscience hardens itself against every check and remonstrance, (and all this is possible to a rational soul, which must be dealt with in a rational way), then the Spirit of God, being thus resisted, is grieved, and the sinner is left to reap the fruit of his doings. To force the man to see, feel, repent, believe, and be saved, would be to alter the essential principles of his creation and the nature of mind, and reduce him into the state of a machine, the vis inertiae of which was to be overcome and conducted by a certain quantum of physical force, superior to that resistance which would be the natural effect of the certain quantum of the vis inertiae possessed by the subject on and by which this agent was to operate. Now, man cannot be operated on in this way, because it is contrary to the laws of his creation and nature; nor can the Holy Ghost work on that as a machine which himself has made a free agent. Man therefore may, and generally does, resist the Holy Ghost; and the whole revelation of God bears unequivocal testimony to this most dreadful possibility, and most awful truth. It is trifling with the sacred text to say that resisting the Holy Ghost here means resisting the laws of Moses, the exhortations, threatenings, and promises of the prophets, etc. These, it is true, the uncircumcised ear may resist; but the uncircumcised heart is that alone to which the Spirit that gave the laws, exhortations, promises, etc, speaks; and, as matter resists matter, so spirit resists spirit. These were not only uncircumcised in ear, but uncircumcised also in heart; and therefore they resisted the Holy Ghost, not only in his declarations and institutions, but also in his actual energetic operations upon their minds.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    Ye stiff-necked - The discourse of Stephen has every appearance of having been interrupted by the clamors and opposition of the Sanhedrin. This verse has no immediate connection with what precedes, and appears to have been spoken in the midst of opposition and clamor. If we may conjecture in this case, it would seem that the Jews saw the drift of his argument; that they interrupted him; and that when the tumult had somewhat subsided, he addressed them in the language of this verse, showing them that they sustained a character precisely similar to their rebellious fathers. The word “stiff-necked” is often used in the Old Testament, Exodus 32:9; Exodus 33:3, Exodus 33:5; Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6, Deuteronomy 9:13; Deuteronomy 10:16, etc. It is a figurative expression taken from oxen that are refractory, and that will not submit to be yoked. Applied to people, it means that they are stubborn, contumacious, and unwilling to submit to the restraints of Law.

    Uncircumcised in heart - Circumcision was a sign of being a Jew - of acknowledging the authority of the laws of Moses. It was also emblematic of purity, and of submission to the Law of God. The expression “uncircumcised in heart” denotes those who were not willing to acknowledge that Law, and submit to it. They had hearts filled with vicious and unsubdued affections and desires.

    And ears - That is, who are unwilling to “hear” what God says. Compare Leviticus 26:41; Jeremiah 9:26. See the notes on Romans 2:28-29.

    Resist the Holy Ghost - You oppose the message which is brought to you by the authority of God and the inspiration of his Spirit. The message brought by Moses; by the prophets; by the Saviour; and by the apostles - all by the infallible direction of the Holy Spirit - they and their fathers opposed.

    As your fathers did … - As he had specified in Acts 7:27, Acts 7:35, Acts 7:39-43.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    Stephen was going on, it seems, to show that the temple and the temple service must come to an end, and it would be the glory of both to give way to the worship of the Father in spirit and in truth; but he perceived they would not bear it. Therefore he broke off, and by the Spirit of wisdom, courage, and power, sharply rebuked his persecutors. When plain arguments and truths provoke the opposers of the gospel, they should be shown their guilt and danger. They, like their fathers, were stubborn and wilful. There is that in our sinful hearts, which always resists the Holy Ghost, a flesh that lusts against the Spirit, and wars against his motions; but in the hearts of God's elect, when the fulness of time comes, this resistance is overcome. The gospel was offered now, not by angels, but from the Holy Ghost; yet they did not embrace it, for they were resolved not to comply with God, either in his law or in his gospel. Their guilt stung them to the heart, and they sought relief in murdering their reprover, instead of sorrow and supplication for mercy.
    Ellen G. White
    That I May Know Him, 244.4

    Those who resist the Spirit of God think that they will repent at some future day when they get ready to take a decided step toward reformation, but repentance will then be beyond their power. According to the light and privileges given will be the darkness of those who refuse to walk in the light while they have the light.... TMK 244.4

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    Ellen G. White
    This Day With God, 257.3

    God has instructed me to tell you and all His people to be very careful not to resist the working of the Holy Spirit—the Comforter that Christ sends. Fear to take the first presumptuous step in resistance. When Christ spoke to the disciples of the Holy Spirit, He sought to uplift their thoughts and enlarge their expectations to grasp the highest conception of excellence. Let us strive to understand His words. Let us strive to appreciate the value of the wonderful gift He has bestowed on us. Let us seek for the fullness of the Holy Spirit.... TDG 257.3

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    Ellen G. White
    The Acts of the Apostles, 99-102

    As Stephen stood face to face with his judges to answer to the charge of blasphemy, a holy radiance shone upon his countenance, and “all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” Many who beheld this light trembled and veiled their faces, but the stubborn unbelief and prejudice of the rulers did not waver. AA 99.1

    When Stephen was questioned as to the truth of the charges against him, he began his defense in a clear, thrilling voice, which rang through the council hall. In words that held the assembly spellbound, he proceeded to rehearse the history of the chosen people of God. He showed a thorough knowledge of the Jewish economy and the spiritual interpretation of it now made manifest through Christ. He repeated the words of Moses that foretold of the Messiah: “A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; Him shall ye hear.” He made plain his own loyalty to God and to the Jewish faith, while he showed that the law in which the Jews trusted for salvation had not been able to save Israel from idolatry. He connected Jesus Christ with all the Jewish history. He referred to the building of the temple by Solomon, and to the words of both Solomon and Isaiah: “Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool: what house will ye build Me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of My rest? Hath not My hand made all these things?” AA 99.2

    When Stephen reached this point, there was a tumult among the people. When he connected Christ with the prophecies and spoke as he did of the temple, the priest, pretending to be horror-stricken, rent his robe. To Stephen this act was a signal that his voice would soon be silenced forever. He saw the resistance that met his words and knew that he was giving his last testimony. Although in the midst of his sermon, he abruptly concluded it. AA 100.1

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    Ellen G. White
    Lift Him Up, 104

    I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Acts 7:56. LHU 104.1

    Stephen, the foremost of the seven deacons, was a man of deep piety and broad faith.... LHU 104.2

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