Dr. Edwin Lee Vrell
A Tribute

     In October a very special Bible teacher and friend of mine graduated to the immediate presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Ed has now entered his glorious heavenly tent, awaiting the final resurrection at Christ’s return, when all of God’s elect on earth of all ages will together receive immortal human bodies in the New Earth that endures without end. Praise God for His unfathomable Grace in Christ!

     I first met Ed when he was applying for a pastorate in Illinois in Dec. 1986. As the interim elder/pastor of a congregation seeking a permanent leader, I was coordinating all of the interviews and travel arrangements necessary to achieve that end. During the two days that Ed stayed at my home, I was introduced to a new world of Bible interpretation and historical theology that I had never considered before that point. I had already experienced three major paradigm shifts in my gospel journey before that point. The first was coming to the Pauline and apostolic gospel of justification in Christ’s person and work alone, assured solely by the by Holy Spirit’s gift of faith alone, in the 1970’s. The second was leaving all of the sectarian doctrines of the church of my upbringing (Seventh-day Adventism) in light of that gospel in 1980-81. The third was coming to the predestinarian doctrines of free and sovereign Grace in Christ soon thereafter. I never thought I would have another major change in thinking after that, as most of my ‘Reformed Calvinist’ brethren taught me they were already in the full truth of God except for minor ‘adjustments’ in belief that might become necessary if further light shone. It was proposed that no gospel illumination would or could ever come that significantly altered what was stated in the Reformed Protestant confessions.

     Two days with Ed and the Lord blew away my Reformed idols! From him I learned many truths regarding the history of dogma that exposed traditional Calvinism for what it was. The Lord caused me to see the hypocrisy of a Protestant movement confessing sovereign predestination but privately hating the doctrine and generally refusing to preach it publicly, especially its full implications. Most of the Calvinist dynasty felt ‘obligated’ to sometimes teach a doctrine so clearly proclaimed in the Bible, however, the moments where this occurred were dreaded and fearful of the consequences of failing to please men. I came to understand that virtually all sovereign grace teaching was paradoxical and affirmed opposing principles in the same breath. This all happened in the guise of ‘affirming human responsibility’ and ‘not destroying the paradox’. I became a true supralapsarian that weekend and have remained so ever since. Ed’s parting words to me after the fellowship we had were two phrases that will stick with me for life: “I actually enjoy my theology and faith, so I’ve hopelessly sinned against traditional Calvinism” and “believe in Jesus and do as you please.”

     Over the 7 years following my meeting with Ed, I experienced the fourth and final paradigm shift in my gospel journey. This change is owed to the Lord’s grace alone and occurred progressively in the midst of painful wrestling with the Word and full implications of apostolic teaching. Though God’s elect in Christ will always have adjustments in belief as the Lord illuminates more and more truth, I do not expect to have another major shift in worldview (or, more accurately, GRACE view) for the rest of my life. During those 7 years, in the midst of ongoing discussions with brother Ed, I came to know the following immense truths demanded by the gospel but rejected by most of Reformed churchianity:

     I did not meet with Ed again personally until early in the summer of 2002, when my wife and I stopped at his apartment in Longmont CO on a road trip. At that time we also met his wife Grace whom he survived by two years. What a wonderful fellowship that was! In the midst of seemingly the worst of times--the passing of dear friends who have been God’s agents to proclaim glorious truths changing our lives forever, the best of earthly times in the Lord are immensely escalated in our minds as a wonderful picture of the eternal fellowship in the gospel we will have without end after the Lord’s final coming.

     Following that meeting, Ed and I had many precious phone and mail conversations over the years regarding gospel truth and also just encouraging one another in the Lord. During his fight with cancer in the final years, until his earthly end, I never witnessed anyone who accepted such suffering with more patience and confessed the sovereignty of God over all things in Christ more uncompromisingly.  

  1. God’s purpose to save an elect people from sin and death out of humankind is entirely apart from any a-priori consideration of their lapse into wickedness. Grace is always the antecedent of sin in the Lord’s predestination.
  2. Since Grace is the Lord’s eternal purpose towards His elect, those same elect are never under His wrathful disposition even in their unregenerate state.
  3. Those not elected unto salvation are never within the Lord’s gracious disposition at any point (i.e., there is no ‘common grace’).
  4. God’s will is unitary and all of history is the unfolding of a single positive decree. God has no ‘permissive’ decrees that are undesirable and unfortunate in contrast to His will to save. He always achieves His full purpose and want in everything that is predestined.
  5. There is no ‘free offer’ of the gospel. Instead, there is a ‘full proclamation’ of the realities of the gospel and associated destinies to both elect and non-elect.
  6. There is no ‘common fall’ of mankind in Adam and there are no ‘fallen angels’. A perfectly sinless being cannot sin. Wherever sin happens in the universe, God has purposed it and created a proclivity toward it. This occurs in the midst of immensely different purposes toward those who experience it (salvation vs. damnation). But it is nonetheless true that it happens in all cases where sin becomes a reality.
  7. There is no doctrine of works-based assurance in the Bible. Assurance of salvation is based purely on grace in Christ’s person and work and communicated to us by the Spirit in the gift of faith alone plus nothing.  

     Ed’s materials that he personally typed, copied, and send out regularly for many years will be a blessing to those of us who have them for the rest of our lives. He never cared for the post-modern internet or purely electronic methods of communication. Though most of us probably disagree with that perspective, I think we can sympathize with the point that it is hard to perceive belonging to the strange and immensely corrupt times in which we live. I pray that his two published books “The Death of Calvinism” and “Translating My Favorite Bible Passages” will bless many who acquire them for years to come. These can easily be purchased on Amazon or other book-selling sites.

     It is a great tragedy when God’s special messengers recognized by virtually no one fail to be remembered in history. By writing this tribute I hope to remember Ed as one of the Lord’s finest and most humble servants. He was spurned by virtually every congregation he pastored and every theologian he conversed with. Yet he was a great man only because of his immense calling in Christ to proclaim the true gospel. His works do follow him, and I wanted to say this small word on his behalf.

     Bro. Bob Higby

Topics: Pristine Grace Churchianity Gospel Distinctives
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