The Holy Secret (Hardcover )

by James L. Ferrell

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Many today carry a secret: We do not love what we have been commanded to love. We do not love what is holy. Although we might reverence things that are deemed holy — the temple, for example, and the scriptures, and the Sabbath — we do not love them. Not really. Not with our whole souls.

The Holy Secret is the story of a man who learns how to love what matters. As he does, he learns another secret: Love for holiness transforms life itself. His realization of what he had been missing may lead you to some discoveries of your own!

Product Details

  • Run time:  Approx. 285 min.

About the Author

James L. Ferrell was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. He is a graduate of Brigham Young University and Yale Law School and is a founding partner of the Arbinger Institute. He has authored several bestselling books, including The Peacegiver, The Holy Secret, and The Hidden Christ. and Jim and his wife, Jackie, are the parents of five children.

Chapter 19


Michael shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think it’s been anything in particular. It just hasn’t connected for me somehow. I feel like I’m missing something. Or,” he added, “that the temple is missing something.” He bit his lower lip, unsure whether he should have mentioned his last thought. “Oh, there is one thing,” he added, partly in order to divert attention. “I don’t understand the formalism. Why such legalistic ordinances, for example? I don’t understand why the Lord would need to use them. If the point is having our hearts sanctified and made pure, as you suggested Monday, then I don’t see where such rigid formalism is necessary. Just let the Holy Ghost do his sanctifying work. Why do we need more than that?”

“An interesting objection for one who spends his days working on contracts.”

“I know. It seems strange that I would have a problem with legalism. It’s just that while I understand why we need contracts in the world, I’m not sure why the Lord needs them.”

“The Lord doesn’t need them, Michael.”

“Then why does he require us to enter into them?”

“I would think that answer would be obvious,” Albert responded. “He requires it because we need them.”


Albert sat in silence for a moment. “Do you know of a board game called The Settlers of Catan?” he finally said.

“I think I’ve heard of it. Never played it, though.”

“It’s a pretty fun game, actually,” Albert said.

“Who do you play it with?” Michael asked. He instantly regretted the question, as it pointed to Albert’s loneliness.

“I have a grandnephew who loves the game,” he said. “I bought a copy so we can play when he comes over.”

Michael nodded. “And the game has something to do with the temple?” he asked.

“No,” Albert chuckled, “it’s not as good as that. But it has illuminated an important gospel point for me—a point about our need for heavenly contracts. That’s what I want to mention to you.” After a brief pause he plunged onward. “The game has five resources you accumulate and then trade to build cities. The resources are wood, brick, ore, wheat, and lamb. There is a strategy involved in accumulating them, of course, and during one particular game with my grandnephew, Jacob, I bungled my ­strategy and ended up being shut out of lamb. Jacob had a corner on it. Which meant, of course, that I was done. There was no way for me to win, except one: I needed a deal; I needed Jacob to trade some lamb to me.”

“Why would he do that?” Michael laughed.

“Exactly,” Albert said. “I got myself into my own predicament. On my own merits, all was lost. Game over.

“But Jacob offered me a deal anyway. Even though by the rules of the game I was finished and deserved nothing but to lose, and even though I had nothing that he needed, he traded me some lamb. He offered me a way to stay in the game.”

“Nice kid.”

“He’s a great boy, actually, yes.”

“But I bet he stuck it to you in the deal, didn’t he—one or two lamb for tons of everything else, for example?”

Albert shook his head. “Two lamb for two wood.”

“Wow, that’s a really nice kid!”

“He was merciful to me, to be sure. It was an act of grace, a gift. A gift,” he continued, “that is analogous to the Lord’s gift to us, Michael. Think about it. Without a deal, we are lost forever. We have no claim to a deal—we have failed on our own accord, have nothing to offer that the Lord needs, and are condemned under the laws of justice. We deserve the spiritual death we talked about on Monday. Yet still, the Lord offered us a deal—or, in scriptural language, a covenant. This is what is meant when the scriptures say that he is the ‘author’ of our faith.115 He authored—or created—a way for us to stay in the game, as it were. And like Jacob’s offering, it was a pure act of mercy and grace. Furthermore, his grace did not end at the offering of a deal. Like Jacob, the Lord offers us merciful terms—terms we can comply with, terms we don’t deserve. This, too, is part of his mercy and grace.

“Here, however, Jacob’s mercy stopped far short of the Lord’s. You see, part of the Lord’s grace, as we talked about on Monday, is that he offers us his Spirit, which tells us ‘all things what we should do.’116 It is as if Jacob, after giving me the lamb, would have guided me in all my future moves in the game, whispering instructions that would have led me to victory. He didn’t do this, of course, but that is precisely what the Lord offers us. If we comply with the merciful terms of his deal or covenant, he will walk with and guide us.

“Yet his grace goes even further than this. For notwithstanding the grace of the deal, the grace of its terms, and the grace of the Spirit that invites us to comply with those terms, each of us fails to live up to the terms of the covenant. We condemn ourselves once again. This happened in my game with Jacob. It turns out that I made a foolish move and squandered the lamb he had graciously given me. Had I made a different play with the lamb, I probably would have won the game, but I made a mistake. I recognized the mistake almost the moment I made it, but it was too late. I had squandered my last lamb. Again, I had no hope unless Jacob would forgive my mistake and offer me lamb once again.”

“Did he?” Michael asked.

Albert laughed. “No. This time he crushed me. But the Lord doesn’t. He offers us the grace of repentance.117 We are ‘saved by grace after all we can do,’ the scriptures say, which is why the Savior is not only the ‘author’ of our faith but also its ‘finisher.’118 However, the king of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies taught his people that ‘all we can do’ is to repent!119 When we repent of our failure to comply with the gracious terms of the covenant, the Lord allows us to ‘stay in the game,’ as it were. He is able and willing to offer us this repentance because he graciously took upon himself the crushing weight of our sinfulness, so that both the stain of, and the desire for, sin might be ‘taken away from our hearts.’”120

Michael’s mind was racing. The story of Albert’s predicament with his nephew, Jacob, and Jacob’s subsequent gracious offering, captured man’s total dependence on the Lord in a way Michael had never seen. I’m only in the game because of the grace of the Lord’s covenant, he realized. And then to think that even though the Lord could have required any terms he wanted, he offered us terms we can keep, including the incredibly merciful condition of repentance, a condition that itself was enabled only because of the grace of his suffering. These thoughts captured Michael’s imagination.

“Do you remember on Monday how we looked at two separate questions—how the Lord has power to change our broken hearts, and what we need to do to allow him to change us?”

Michael nodded.

“In answer to the first question, I shared the analogy of a king’s offering to save his people, remember?”

“Of course. I loved it.”

“In answer to the second question,” Albert continued, “we discussed how the commandments are designed to bring us to our knees in contrition before the Lord. Only then, when we ourselves come with full purpose of heart to the Lord, thinking ourselves no better than others, can the Lord replace our broken hearts with his own.”

Michael nodded. “I remember.”

“Then think of the analogy of the game I just described. Likewise, when I came to Jacob in need of lamb, he graciously gave me the lamb I needed. But I only came to him because the game had terms I had failed to keep. Had there been no terms under which I was condemned, I would have felt no need to go to Jacob for a deal.”

“Right, that’s the point about the commandments that you talked about on Monday. They awaken us to our sins and therefore to our need for Christ. I get that.”

“Actually, Michael, you’ve left one part out. A critical part too, since it’s where the temple fits in the picture.”

“Really?” Michael asked hopefully. “What have I missed?”

“Two things, actually. Here’s the first. Since it’s precisely my will or desire that must be sanctified and made holy in order to be able to abide the glory of God, the Lord cannot change me against my will. I must, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, lay my will on the altar before the Lord through a sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”121

“Yes, I understand that,” Michael said.

“Do you?”

Albert’s reply made Michael less sure. “I think so.”

“This is not a single offering,” Albert replied. “I’m not suggesting I need approach the Lord in contrition only once and that he will then change the whole of me. Far from it. Agency demands that I am freely consenting to the changes the Lord stands willing to make in me. To sacrifice is to know what it is I am willing to give up. If the Lord were to surprise me and change what I didn’t know I was asking him to change, he would be changing parts of me without my consent. He would be usurping my will, which, since his work is precisely to invite us through our own volition to allow him to change our wills, is something he cannot do.”

Michael was still searching for where Albert was going. He sensed something important, but he could only barely see the outlines of the point through the mist that still obscured his view.

“It follows, then,” Albert said, “that we need to know every piece of us that needs, as it were, more Lamb. We need to see every weakness, every fault, every failing, every transgression—which, as we have discussed, is exactly what the gospel can show us. Brigham Young said that ‘the gospel . . . causes men and women to reveal that which would have slept in their dispositions until they dropped into their graves. The plan by which the Lord leads his people makes them reveal their thoughts and intents, and brings out every trait of disposition lurking in their [beings].’122 ‘Come unto me,’ the Savior said, and ‘I will show unto [men] their weakness. . . . If they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.’123 So if we go to the Lord contritely, in faith, laying each of these transgressions and faults on the altar before him, he will consume them through the power of the Holy Ghost. But again, we know what needs to be consumed on the altar only if we understand what is required of us under the covenant.”

A shaft of light started to cut through the confusion in Michael’s mind. “I see. You’re saying the Lord can’t just change us generally because to do so would be to override the will he is trying to sanctify in us. We need to know every term or requirement in the covenant the Lord has extended to us so that we can know when we need to come to him for rescue from every violation of those terms. We need to have our hearts changed term by term so that in the end there is no part of us that still desires sin. So the terms or requirements of the deal matter; that’s what you’re saying. We have to know what they are.”

Albert smiled. “That is what I believe. Which leads to the second issue: What is the best way to invite mankind to learn the terms of the covenant?”

After a moment’s thought, Michael shrugged. “I’m not sure.”

“Well,” Albert said, “in your line of work, how do you ensure that your clients understand the terms of the agreements they are entering into?”

“Well, personally, I review the terms with my clients, item by item.”

“You teach them, then, line upon line, precept upon precept, as the Lord does.”124

Michael smiled at the way Albert so easily made connection with the scriptures. “I suppose so, yes.”

“And is there anything that drives your teaching and their learning?” Albert asked. “Is there anything that speeds that process up and helps them and you to focus?”

Michael thought about the almost endless “closings” he had been part of during his career. “Closing” is the word used to describe the final act whereby individuals or corporations enter into agreements. For example, when purchasing a home, the buyers sit and sign all of the financing, title, and other documents necessary to consummate the deal. This is a closing. In very large business deals, the looming closing date typically drives the final negotiations. Michael had participated in many of these “final pushes,” and in response to Albert’s question he pictured some of these events: people were finally huddled in a room together, reaching agreement on matters that might have been left hanging forever had they not been pushed by the closing date. “Sure,” he answered. “Since the parties have to understand the terms of any agreement before they sign it, the act of signing an agreement itself drives the participants’ preparation and learning. In the law, we call these signing ceremonies closings.”

“In the gospel,” Albert said, “we call these signing ceremonies ordinances.”

I Loved this book. It is Great.

by  Sandra  -   reviewed on  October 20, 2008

I loved this book and I had to pass it on to friend. She now wants to get her own copy and a copy for one of her daughters. I loved the Peacegiver and I also loved The Holy Secret. Thanks for such an inspiring book.

Loved this book

by  Customer  -   reviewed on  September 11, 2008

I loved The Peacegiver and I can say the same about The Holy Secret. It's really a parable teaching one how to look at the scriptures more personally. It helped me to understand how to put myself in the writes position and see from their eyes. I'm not just reading words on a page but actual words and testimony of the real people in the scriptures.

Thanks, Jim!

by  Kathy  -   reviewed on  March 15, 2008

Bravo, Jim! After reading and rereading Peacegiver, I longed for more. This book holds truths most of us ignore when we choose to merely skim the surface of the Lord's gospel. Thank you for showing the way to partake of the blessings promised to those who fully commit to loving God and His will.

A Must Read!

by  Barb  -   reviewed on  October 01, 2008

I absolutely loved this book! I have read it more than once and have loaned it to several people. I now have a greater understanding of the Atonement and how it applies to me and those around me as a result of this book.

Another excellent must read!

by  Barb  -   reviewed on  October 01, 2008

What a great follow up to the Peacegiver! I couldn't wait to get this book and I was not disappointed. I now have a deeper "love" and appreciation for the scriptures, sacrament, and temple worship and have found myself applying the scripture study portion in my study significantly. Keep them coming Mr. Farrell!

Helped to personalize the scriptures

by  Renee  -   reviewed on  October 08, 2008

I enjoyed reading The Holy Secret. I often paused to think about the scriptures in ways I had never considered. A must read.


by  Customer  -   reviewed on  November 12, 2008

This book reminds us all of our little frailties and gets us to reflect on where we stand.

Another incredible book to digest again and again.

by  Customer  -   reviewed on  March 29, 2008

The Holy Secret has changed my outlook on these three holy topics. I look forward to reading the scriptures and spend much more time in them. I now concentrate on the sacrament instead of letting my mind wander right out of the building. But the best happened last night at the temple. Having just finished the book, my heart was opened to the beauty of the experience and I left with a greater love for my Savior. , Thank you for another life-changing book. This is one I will read many times.

Excellent self-analysis on living the basics

by  Robyn  -   reviewed on  November 11, 2008

I really liked this book because it takes the 3 basic "duties" of church members: attending church, attending the temple, and studying the scriptures--and asks us to look at our attitude towards these things. Are we immmersing ourselves in the scriptures? Do we ask questions and really wonder & ponder them? Do we look forward to church and temple attendance? Are we being fed? Are we going hungry and thirsty? Are we giving our all? The way Farrell writes causes the reader to put him/herself in the place of the characters and ask, am I like that? How can I be better? His book really gave me insights that I hadn't gained even on a mission or in religion classes, so thank you, Brother Farrell!

Great read!

by  Monica  -   reviewed on  October 23, 2008

This book gave a lot of great insight and it was a very easy read!

I love this Author!

by  Customer  -   reviewed on  October 15, 2008

I thoroughly enjoyed The Peacekeeper and was very anxious to read another book from this author. A little bit harder to get into but once I got going in it I couldn't put it down! Thank you for giving me a new insight on how to better personalize the scriptures.

Even my teenagers are illuminated and empowered by this powerful book!

by  Marsha  -   reviewed on  April 09, 2008

This book has opened the scriptures to me in amazing ways...and my scriptures were already lovingly read, marked and worn from much feasting! The insights I've gained into the Sacrament and the Atonement are internally illuminating. The incredible comfort I've gained about my forever family unit and the sealing power of the temple is eternally empowering, and I'll never be the same. But best of all, as we have begun reading this aloud as a family, our teenage children enjoy reading it and want their turn to read it aloud. They hate it when we stop for the night. They just don't want to put it down!!!! I've already purchased extra copies for my extended family.

A must read for everyone.

by  Customer  -   reviewed on  September 11, 2008

What a wonderful book for really learning to love the scriptures, the sunday worship, and the temple! This book truly give you a new perspective on living the the gospel.

Another Masterpiece!

by  Barry  -   reviewed on  April 30, 2008

Another Masterpiece from James Ferrell. My wife and I just finished reading it and found it to be wonderful, life altering, and a needed wake up call. We are going to get copies for all of our children. I feel it is even better than 'The Peacegiver'...but both should be read by everyone. Thank you Br. Ferrell...keep up the great work. , Barry Bunzell

This book is a must-read for anyone who has struggled with spirituality!

by  Customer  -   reviewed on  May 07, 2008

Wow. I'm only halfway through the audiobook and I agree with each of the other reviews. Life-changing! I'd probably be finished with the book, but I keep rewinding so that I can really absorb every word. I loved 'The Peacegiver,' too, but I have to admit that this story is speaking to me--and inspiring me--in ways nothing ever has before. Thank you, James Ferrell. THANK YOU!

Wonderful listening

by  Patty  -   reviewed on  October 01, 2008

I purchased the CD of The Secret. I have not tired of listening to it yet, it is soothing to the soul. A wonderful book on CD, well worth owning.

This book was truley thought provoking!

by  Nancy  -   reviewed on  September 11, 2008

I am not sure I have learned so much from a book in a long time. My favorite aspect of the book was that it included information on not just what we should do but how to do it. We've all heard that we need to study and ponder the scriptues, but how? Through a fabulous narrative, Ferrell provides road maps of how to gain greater love for the gospel principles.

I expected more.

by  Customer  -   reviewed on  November 06, 2008

I didn't care for this book. It moved so slowly that I could hardly force myself to pick it up again. After reading the other reviews though, I will give it another try. Perhaps I'm missing the point.


by  Nate  -   reviewed on  November 10, 2008

This book was very thought provoking..yes. However, it didn't have the same capturing spirit to it that the Peacegiver did. I am struggling finishing it. It would be an amazing doctrinal book in the style of a Maxwell or Talmage but the book is mostly dialog of scripture (verse by verse) and it looses interest. Re-read Peacegiver.


by  Ryan  -   reviewed on  September 11, 2008

This book demonstrates some important principles within the context of a fictional conversation between two people. It really encourages the reader to evaluate his/her responses to several key areas of our lives: scriptures, prayer, temple, etc. In that respect, this book is 5-star. My only reservation is that I'm not sure I agree fully with some of the insights about the scriptures ("goodly") and sacrament (the specific meaning of each of the prayers). The point is clear: we need to think about these things. However, it almost "connects the dots" a little too much, rather than leaving it up to us. Nonetheless, I definitely recommend this book.

A gift!

by  Customer  -   reviewed on  September 12, 2008

Every year, I chose one of the books that I have read to share with friends and family as a Christmas present. This is definitely the book of the year for me! Written in the easy-to-read style of "Tuesdays with Morrie" this book is insightful and helpful, I really want others to benefit from it too! Katrina Murdoch

Christian writing at its best

by  Michael  -   reviewed on  October 01, 2008

This is a wonderful book with a sincerely deep concept.

Great stuff!

by  Paulo  -   reviewed on  September 19, 2008

This is one of the most insightful books I have read, in the most simple of ways. Can't say I agree with everything in it, but it makes you think and consider your level of spirituality. I'd say this one is a must.

A beautiful and thought provoking way to look at deep doctrine.

by  Amy  -   reviewed on  September 19, 2008

The meat of this book is even more impressive than The Peacegiver, which I also loved. I've listened to each of the cd's at least 6 times each, and look forward to also getting the book and underlining and making further study of many of the principles mentioned during my personal scripture study. This book was well worth the read/listen. I also thought it was a special touch to have the book read by the author. I have already given this book away to several friends.


by  Customer  -   reviewed on  September 30, 2008

I couldn't have come across this book at a better time. A great wake-up call when life-long church membership seems to become routine or dull!

Life Changing

by  Camree  -   reviewed on  October 20, 2008

This book was truly amazing to me. I was looking for a pick me up one day while browsing through the Deseret Book and this book just kind of called out to me. While reading it I couldnt put it down because it was just what I needed to hear. I needed to put more effort into my family life, my attitude at church and my scripture study. This book taught me how I could get the most out of being a member of this church. It really changed my life and taught me a lot.

mostly good book but left with a few concerns.

by  Joseph  -   reviewed on  September 22, 2008

Similer in style to The Peacgiver and for the most part very good and enlightening, but the author delves into speculation about the gospel and presents it in a way that could be easily passed off and accepted by the reader, and the concerns raised by that is why I only rate the book at 2out of 5

I love this book.

by  Travis  -   reviewed on  November 05, 2008

I can relate to this book. I love the way it makes me think.

Life-changing book

by  Customer  -   reviewed on  October 26, 2010

This book changed how I read the scriptures and transformed my understanding of and appreciation for the temple. I think I have begun to understand how the Lord can really make us holy, which was a concept I've never understood at all before. I loved the story as well--it pulled me in and helped me to see myself in a whole new light. Very similar to his earlier book, The Peacegiver, in its impact.

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