Bible Study - Holy Spirit : The Hound of Heaven

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Bible Study Series: Holy Spirit - Roles, Types and Imagery

The Holy Spirit - The Hound of Heaven

by I GordonHoly Spirit Bible Study Series The hound of heaven

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears...


So maybe about now you're thinking 'what was that? Was that... a poem?' Yes, us old people still remember them! This was how the famous poem by Francis Thompson called 'The Hound of Heaven' begins, describing the relentless pursuit of God for the lost sinner and this chase is what we will be talking about today. One writer states concerning this poem:

"As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and unperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never-ending pursuit."1

So as we move forward exploring the work of the Holy Spirit, I want to focus today on the Spirit's work in chasing, drawing, convicting and ultimately reconciling the unbeliever with the Father. He is the hound of heaven, To do this we'll examine a few passages:

  • We'll start with what Jesus said about the role of the Holy Spirit in convicting sinners and drawing them to Himself
  • We'll explore the Old Testament type of Eliezer, Abraham's servant, going out to bring a bride for Isaac
  • We'll look at three parables that Jesus gave which emphasize the work of God to find the lost sinner
  • We'll also look at our role, in connection with the work of the Holy Spirit, in drawing the lost.

Mmmm... there's a bit to go through there! I might have to keep it brief in parts but let's begin with what Jesus said about the conviction of the Spirit.  

The Holy Spirit and conviction of the world

Joh 16:7-11 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (8) When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: (9) in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; (10) in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; (11) and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

So Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes He will convict the world. 'Convict' is an interesting word here. The Greek word is 'elegchō' and it has the thought of 'rebuke, reprove, convict, convince'. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. Maybe you have experienced it? I know I have. Though I am slowly (and a little reluctantly) becoming a semi-old man, I still remember vividly the drawing and conviction of God's Spirit when, as a 19 year old in my first year of University, I began reading the Bible for the first time. Let me say that I can definitely relate to this title of 'the hound of Heaven'. When I first sensed that God was calling my name, I tried to run. The pursuit was on! I tried to block my ears initially and look the other way. Nothing to see here! Yet the conviction was growing within my heart. It took about one year but at the end I was beat! I was convicted. I was guilty. I was fearful of what happened if I were to die. I was tired of finding excuses in saying 'no' to God. I was tired of putting temporal, earthly things (and friendships - which was a biggie for me) before the One who went to the cross to pay the price for me. Let me say again that the pursuit was very real. The conviction was intense. And today, approximately 30 years on, I am so thankful for it! 

So Jesus says that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of their guilt in three areas:

  • Firstly in regard to sin: We live in a world where people don't want to know about sin because they don't want to be accountable to the Judge of all mankind. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin in general but there is a specific sin that is in focus here 'because men do not believe in Me' Jesus said. That is the greatest of all sins... Unbelief. Faith in Jesus is the only answer to sin and to reject that is to reject the only way of escape. Jesus' death has paid the price for all sin but without faith in that sacrifice the sin remains. So belief in the Lord Jesus is critical. You can't just sit on the fence when it comes to Jesus. He didn't give you that option. When I was being 'pursued' by the hound of Heaven there were verses that cut really deep and as I read the book of Mathew for the first time, this was one of them - 'He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.' (Mat 12:30) This verse told me that I couldn't just live life being neutral toward Jesus. I was either for or against Him and to not be for Him was to be against Him. So the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, with the greatest sin of all being unbelief. As Bob Dylan once sang 'Either ya got faith or ya got unbelief and there ain't no neutral ground'.
  • Secondly in regard to righteousness: Jesus said the Spirit would convict men in regards to righteousness because He was going to the Father and they would see Him no more. Hmmm... What does that mean? It means that the One who man rejected and cast out as a worthless criminal, is the only One who is worthy. He is the only One who is righteousness based on His own work and that work is complete and perfect. And that is evidenced by the fact that He conquered the grave and went back to be seated at the right hand of the Father. There is no tomb or grave that contains the bones of Jesus! Any righteousness that man comes up with outside of what Jesus did is simply self-righteousness and self-righteousness is no righteousness. Well it is nauseating righteousness and it will not stand before God. Jesus alone has won the right to ascend into Heaven and in terms of salvation the only true righteousness that we have is His righteousness accredited to our account. So the Holy Spirit convicts of righteousness because we need someone else's righteousness to make Heaven. Our self-righteousness is as filthy rags before God. But thank the Lord that His righteousness gifted to those who believe!
  • Thirdly in regard to judgement: The Spirit convicts in regard to judgement because the prince of this world now stands condemned. Note the present tense in that. Satan, the god of this world, is already condemned. And anyone who follows the prince of this world (whether knowingly or not) stands condemned already with him. Judgement has been pronounced and the death sentence has already been read. It is simply a matter of time before their name is called. This is what the Holy Spirit also convicted me about all those years ago. I saw that I was literally one breath away from Hell and, but for the mercy of God, there go I. 

So there is the role of the Holy Spirit in regards to convicting and drawing the lost. He is the hound of Heaven and has been chasing and convicting people for 2000 years now. And He won't stop until the door is fully closed, the heavens are opened, and the Lord returns. So let's have a look how this is pictured in the Old testament.

O.T Picture: Eliezer & the pursuit of a bride

In the last message I said that the Holy Spirit is pictured in Abraham's servant going out to receive a bride for Abraham's son Isaac in Genesis 24. I mentioned that the servant is highly likely to be Eliezer (Gen 15:1-2) who's name in Hebrew means the 'God of Help'. Thus the servant is a fantastic picture of the Helper who has been sent from the Father to draw the lost and help the found. As we are speaking about the drawing of the Holy Spirit in this message it is worth noting 7 points from this great chapter in Genesis 24 about the work of the helper (plus a bonus point about how it all ends for the bride of Christ). This is the longest chapter in Genesis so we don't have time to go through it all but you would do well to read the entire chapter before looking at these points.

  • The servant/helper is sent by the Father
    Gen 24:1-4 Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in every way. (2) Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, "Please place your hand under my thigh, (3) and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, (4) but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac."

    Firstly we see who is behind the sending of the helper. Just as Abraham sent his oldest and closest servant to leave his home and go out to find a bride for his son, so God the Father sent the Spirit to go out into all the world and seek those that would respond be the bride for His Son Jesus. (John 14:16)

  • The eternal purpose and free will shown
    Gen 24:8-9 "But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there." (9) So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.

    There is an oath between Abraham and his servant but the servant is free from the oath if the woman is not willing to follow him. This shows the eternal purpose of God within the trinity to offer salvation but also the free will of mankind to accept or reject this offer. (Rev 22:17)

  • The servant/helper comes with many gifts
    Gen 24:10 Then the servant took ten camels from the camels of his master, and set out with a variety of good things of his master's in his hand; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor.
    The servant set out with a variety of His master's good things in his hand. What an awesome picture this is of the many gifts and blessings that the Spirit gives, from the Father, to the one who believes! Salvation is obviously the greatest gift. But with this comes the position as a Son of God, the bride of Christ, a member of the body of Christ... and all the gifts and fruit of the Spirit that accompanies such a position!

  • The bride-to-be is beautiful and meets the servant/helper because of a need for water
    Gen 24:16-17 The girl (Rebekah) was very beautiful, a virgin, and no man had had relations with her; and she went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. (17) Then the servant ran to meet her, and said, "Please let me drink a little water from your jar."
    We see here that Rebekah is a very beautiful virgin. So too the bride of Christ is beautiful to the Lord. Note also the interesting place of meeting between the two - that they meet at the well. Rebekah had come for water. And it is to those who have spiritual thirst that receive of the living waters of the Holy Spirit. (John 7:37-39)

  • The servant/helper is totally focused on his message and cannot be side-tracked
    Gen 24:32-34 So the man (Abraham's servant) entered the house. Then Laban unloaded the camels, and he gave straw and feed to the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. (33) But when food was set before him to eat, he said, "I will not eat until I have told my business." And he said, "Speak on." (34) So he said, "I am Abraham's servant...'
    I like this. This servant would not be distracted! Nothing, not even food, would distract the servant or delay him from giving the reason why he had come. He was Abraham's servant and had come on a mission! So to the Holy Spirit has come on a mission from the Father and won't be sidetracked. He has a specific mission towards the lost and won't be diverted from it! (John 16: 8-11) Note also that Abraham's servant didn't speak about himself or relay stories of his upbringing or hometown. He didn't speak of himself at all other than to state who he was in relation to His master Abraham. This again all points to the Holy Spirit who won't speak of His own but what is given to Him (John 16:13)

  • The servant/helper unfolds the big picture
    Gen 24:35-36 "The LORD has greatly blessed my master, so that he has become rich; and He has given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and servants and maids, and camels and donkeys. (36) "Now Sarah my master's wife bore a son to my master in her old age, and he has given him all that he has.
    The servant tells them the big picture - he speaks about his master Abraham, his wealth and how all things have been given unto his son. So too the Holy Spirit tells us about the Father and the Son. Before knowing the Lord we lived for the here and now giving little thought to what may happen after death. But the conviction of the Holy Spirit is around the big picture - it is around eternal matters. And He glorifies the Son showing His place above all, thus convicting the sinner who doesn't have Jesus in His rightful place. (John 16:143-15)

  • The urgency of the servant/helpers message and the need for a response - even without sight!
    Gen 24:56-58 He (Abraham's servant) said to them, "Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master." (57) And they said, "We will call the girl and consult her wishes." (58) Then they called Rebekah and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" And she said, "I will go."
    Here we see the urgency in the servant's message. It was a message that required an answer and no delay. Time was of the essence! This points to the critical importance placed on the gospel message. The sinner is not to delay their response for no one knows how long they have. Note also Rebekah's response. She heard what the servant said and believed the message and was willing to leave straight away. Though she had never seen Isaac, in simple faith and trust she was willing to leave her home and all that she knew, to be united with this precious son. I don't think I need to spell this out. But 1st Peter puts it well for all believers have followed Rebekah's faith without sight here: 1Pe 1:8-9 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, (9) for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

  • The bride meets her groom at His house and is loved by Him
    Gen 24:62-67 Now Isaac had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi; for he was living in the Negev. (63) Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, camels were coming. (64) Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel. (65) She said to the servant, "Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?" And the servant said, "He is my master." Then she took her veil and covered herself. (66) The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. (67) Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.
    Rebekah's journey finished at the home of Isaac where, for the first time, she finally saw the one to whom she was betrothed. What a fantastic picture this is for the believer! The Holy Spirit's role is to bring you to the Son. This has it's conclusion when we finally see Him face to face! It should also be noted that this is the first sighting of Isaac since being offered up as a sacrifice in Genesis 22. Same with Jesus of course! You love Him though you haven't seen Him... but, if you are a believer, you will! And on that note, look also at Isaac's joy here - finally receiving a bride for himself, it says 'and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.' We often think about the sinner joy in finding the salvation and the Lord. But never forget the Lord's joy in receiving a bride unto Himself. It was this joy that kept Him steadfast as He faced the cross (Isa 62:5, Heb 12:2, Jude 1:24-25, Luke 15:5)

Finding the lost - Roles of the Father, Jesus, the H.S and you!

Now, having explored a little of the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing the lost to the Father, you might be thinking 'well, that was me... I was lost, but now am found. How can I help the Holy Spirit in this great task and mission of drawing others?' Let's have a look at that now by examining parables of the lost being found in book of Luke. In Luke 15 Jesus gave three parables about this search for the lost. Often we just think of the most famous one which is the parable of the prodigal son. But can you remember the other two that proceeded that one in this chapter? Remember? Maybe something about a wayward confused sheep? Possibly something about a missing coin? Have you ever considered in what ways these three parables are linked together? Let's look at all three briefly, with a bit more focus on the second parable as it specifically relates to the work of the Spirit through believers.

Parable /
Person Pictured

Parable of the lost sheep
Work of the Son - as the great Shepherd

Luk 15:3-7 Then Jesus told them this parable: (4) Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? (5) And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders (6) and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' (7) I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

This parable pictures Jesus as the Shepherd who was willing to leave all that He had to go out and find the lost.2 He was actively looking for the one that was lost during His ministry on earth, even willing to go to the cross to pay the price for the sheep's redemption. The use of 'sheep' in this parable pictures the sinner as, well, stupid! Sheep are prone to wander and become lost! They don't want to be lost or separated but once lost they can't find there own way home and need the help of the shepherd to rescue them. Thus it is with fallen humanity so the fact that the Great Shepherd left all to look for the lost is something believers should, and will. be eternally thankful for!

Parable of the lost coin
Work of the Holy Spirit, through the Church

Luk 15:8-10 Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? (9) And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' (10) In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

This parable pictures the work of the Holy Spirit, through the church (pictured by the woman). She uses the light (the word) to try find the lost coin in a dark house. The coin that is lost represents the helplessness of the sinner to be saved in their own strength and goodness. Just as a lost coin cannot make itself 'found' again by itself, so the sinner cannot save themselves. Jesus said that salvation was impossible for man... but all things are possible for God! But the Holy Spirit is searching and uses believers in this search to find those that are lost! 

Parable of the prodigal son
Joy of the Father in receiving back the wayward repentant son!

Luk 15:11-20 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. (12) The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. (13) Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. (14) After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. (15) So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. (16) He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. (17) When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! (18) I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. (19) I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' (20) So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him...

The parable pictures the wayward sinner who has left God for a life of sinful and wild living. The son is pictured as willfully rejecting the Father in this parable for a life of excess and you will note, in contrast to the first two parables, he is allowed to go and no one comes looking for him. The consequences of his sinful life must come home to roost before he can come to his senses, repent and return. But once he does, note how God the Father is pictured towards the repentant sinner - He is seen as one running towards his son, embracing and kissing him. 


Just focusing a little more on the second parable, I really like what the Numerical Bible says, for it shows how we play our role as believers in connection with the Holy Spirit, to find the lost:

“The second parable is that of the woman, in the Scripture the figure of the Church, the instrument of the Spirit. The lamp of the Word is in her hand, and she needs it in the darkness of the night, while Christ is absent. The ‘house’ is the circle of natural ties and relationships; for it is not just a question of public preaching, but of that testimony upon which the success of the preacher after all so much depends, and for which the whole Church, and not any class or section of it, is responsible. Good it is to realize that every soul of man, covered with the dust of sin as he may be, and hidden in the darkness of the world, belongs of right to the King’s treasury, and has the King’s image stamped on him, though with sore disfigurement. Claim him we may, wherever we may find him, for God to whom he belongs. This general evangelism, we may learn from the parable here, is what is the mind of the Spirit for the Church indwelt of Him. Here too there must be friends and neighbors summoned to rejoice,--angelic onlookers who are in sympathy with Him who is always the glorious Seeker, and who sets in motion all the springs of love and pity that flow anywhere in unison with His own.”
F.W Grant, The Numerical Bible

These are great parables. We should remember that Jesus used these parables to answer the accusation of the Pharisees and teachers of the law that "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." (Luk 15:2)

All three parables3 answer this accusation. They speak of that which was lost and then found and portray the joy in Heaven when that lost sinner is returned to the family of God. There is joy for the angels when this happens. There is joy for our shepherd, Jesus when the lost sheep is found. There is joy for the Holy Spirit working through the Church (the woman) when the light is turned on and the lost coin shines and is found. And there is joy for the Father who is pictured running to and embracing any repentant wayward child who returns to Him. This chapter, and all three parables, give the heart of God do they not? And His heart is for the lost. So is that your heart? That is a very important question so ponder it for a while. I know we all have different gifts and callings but it is critical to remember that 'the Son of man came to seek and save that which was lost' - and our great commission is to find our role is this grand plan. And quite often this begins in 'the circle of natural ties and relationships' as mentioned above. Let your light shine. Don't hide it. It could be the light that is needed to find the lost but precious coin.

Letting the light shine in darkness

As we draw near the end of this study, I want to share a recent testimony of a friend as it shows how the light can shine even in the most difficult circumstances. This lady is the mother of my best friend. I have known her for 40 years and she was a member of the same church as I was for about 20 years. She came to my mid-week home group for many years as well. 

A testimony - hope in the face of death

On the Christmas eve just past, she was taken into hospital for some urgent tests. The results were not good. In fact they were devastating. It wasn't a good Christmas message. She was told that she has pancreatic cancer and only has weeks to live. As the Doctor told her the news he was crying. Her son with her was also crying. And yet (and this must be through the strength of the Holy Spirit, the Helper) she had peace. She told them both not to cry and said to the Doctor that it was ok. She said that she is a believer in Jesus and knows exactly where she is going and that it's all ok. 

Can you imagine the impact a testimony like that would have upon someone who is used to seeing the fear that most feel when face to face with death? 


When she got home she sat each of her grandchildren down and told them that she wants to see each one again in Heaven and that they must follow the Lord Jesus. She has continued to be a witness for the Lord to those around her, including a nurse that comes to her home to help. She told the nurse that everything is ok... that she knows who she believes in and despite the temporal pain she is in, she is at peace and looking forward to going to Heaven. The nurse (who works with people in their last days) responded by saying that she had never met someone with such an amazing attitude! We can only pray and hope that she thinks deeply about what it is that would give a person such hope and peace right in the midst of death.    


So to conclude, what have we seen... what can you remember? What do you mean nothing!?! We've seen that the Holy Spirit was given to convict the lost and draw them to the Son. This was pictured in the Old Testament story of Abraham's servant going out to bring back a bride for his Son Isaac. And Rebekah, though she hadn't even seen Isaac, believed the message that the servant spoke and was willing to leave all that she knew to go to a distant land and become Isaac's wife. It's a great picture of what believers do today and I trust that you have made that decision, though it be sight unseen, to trust in and follow the Son. And if you have, we have seen that you also get a new job... We are to work with the Holy Spirit (who alone can actually convict and draw a person) to search out for others that are lost. Like the woman in the parable, turning on the light to search for the lost coin in a darkened room, that is now our task. We can only do it in connection with the Holy Spirit. 

Can you think of anyone that God might be laying on your heart today? 

Can you think of anyone that doesn't know Him that you could pray for?

Can you think of anyone that you could share the good news with? 

Let's face it... in this day and age there are lots of people out there in need of good news! If these studies are simply for head-knowledge they are of little use. But if you have been able to grasp something extra today in God's role and joy in drawing the lost to Himself, then we all need see what action and part we can play in this pursuit and search for the lost. So thank God again today that He has given His Spirit, who really is the Hound of Heaven4, chasing down the lost, and ask Him once again what small part you can play in that divine pursuit.

God Bless.


  1. The Hound of Heaven is a 182 line poem written by Francis Thompson (1859–1907) in 1893.  Such was the impact of this poem that G. K. Chesterton said “It is the most magnificent poem ever written in English,” to which J. R. R. Tolkien (author of The Lord of the Rings) responded by saying that Chesterton was not giving the poem the credit it deserves! In “A Study of Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven,” author John O’Conner writes about the title staying: “The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. And it does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood." 

  2. William MacDonald quotes an old hymn stating:

    "How true are the lines from the hymn “The Ninety and Nine”:

    But none of the ransomed ever knew
    How deep were the waters crossed,
    Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through
    Ere He found His sheep that was lost."


  3. On these parables Pastor David Guzik writes:

    a. Each scene illustrates a different aspect of God's work. The Son seeks the lost as the Good Shepherd, the Holy Spirit seeks the lost with searching illumination, and the Father seeks the lost with open arms upon return.

    b. Each scene illustrates an increasing severity of loss. Of the sheep 1% were lost, of the coins 10% were lost, and of the sons 50% were lost.

    c. Each scene illustrates a different way of being lost.

    i. The sheep was lost by foolish wandering, and so are many people today.
    ii. The coin was lost by what someone else did, and we can say that we are lost because of what Adam did.
    iii. The son was lost because of rebellion, and a rebellious departure required a submissive return by the lost one.

  4. Almost forgot to put a link to the entire Hound of Heaven poem. Here it is: