Dr. James R. White (Reformed Baptist) and Dr. Steve Blakemore (Wesleyan-Arminian) debated the nature of the will of man on January 13, 2011 (“The Bondage of the Will Debate“). During this debate Dr. White mentioned Isaiah chapter ten. The following is my transcription of some of White’s comments.
“Back to Isaiah chapter ten. If you haven’t read it in a little while, I would suggest you do so. But God brings the Assyrians down…He describes them as the sword in His hand, the club in His hand, the axe in His hand being laid to the root, et cetera, et cetera….and since you elevated your heart…since you made yourselves so arrogant and boastful, now I am now going to bring destruction upon you because of the attitude of your heart — that’s the basis upon which God judges is the attitude of the heart because He knows that perfectly…I’m awful glad that God is a just Judge….every single person who will some day be under His wrath, God restrained them from many sins. In fact, I submit to you if God’s restraining Hand was removed from the sinners here in Jackson, Mississippi you and I could not go outside the doors of this room….we saw in my home state of Arizona what happens when God’s restraining hand is lifted from a certain man…and we are shocked…but I submit to you that every single day God’s restraining hand is holding back the madness of men. And in fact, the very essence of hell itself is when God’s restraining hand is gone. And you see what fills the hearts of men. If that does not indicate the bondage of the will, I do not know what does.” (James R. White; underlining mine–CD)
At least one irony is that Isaiah chapter ten contradicts White’s view of Divine “restraint.” If the supposed “restraining hand” of the Sovereign Sawyer is “removed from” or “lifted from” the sinful saw, then who is controlling whom? Is the saw ultimately self-moving, while the “sovereign” Sawyer merely holds its haughty handle with a sometimes tighter, sometimes looser, grip? (With the “firmer” grip allowing “less freedom” to the saw, and the “looser” grip allowing “more freedom” to the saw?)
Is “the very essence of hell itself” when the Sovereign Sawyer COMPLETELY REMOVES His hand from the saw’s handle? The God of Isaiah ten is the active controller of saws. Scripture does not allow for the idolatrous and vain speculation that the powerfully active hand of the Sovereign Sawyer will eventually be “gone” in hell.
Yes, James White submitted to us the “fact” that in hell God’s (“restraining”) hand “is gone.”
“Woe [to] him who fights with the One who formed him! A potsherd among the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to its former, What are you making? Or does your work say, He [has] no hands?” (Isaiah 45:9)
In order to sidestep Isaiah’s charge, I suppose White could argue that although God’s “restraining hand is gone”, His sustaining hand, nevertheless, remains intact (cf. Acts 17:25-28). Presumably, certain Calvinist potsherds must admit of a perpetual “sustaining hand”, otherwise how could it be said that “in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 27:28)? But, contrary to Calvinists like White, God is not only the Creator and Sustainer of His creation, but also the Controller of His creation. The God of Isaiah ten is the Great Sovereign Sawyer; the “god” of James White is the “great and partially-sovereign restrainer.” In contrast to this cursedly heterodox definition of “restraint” (and its variants), is it possible to say and believe that God “restrains” the sins of men in a blessedly orthodox manner? Of course. Genesis 20:3-6 presents an orthodox way articulating God “restraining” or “withholding” a sinner from a specific sin.
“But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, Behold, you [are] about to die because of the woman you have taken, she being married to a husband. And Abimelech had not come near her. And he said, O Lord, will You slay even a righteous nation? And did he not say to me, She [is] my sister? And she, even she herself said, He [is] my brother. In the honor of my heart and the purity of my hands I have done this. And God said to him in a dream, Yes, I know that you did this in the honor of your heart, and I also withheld you from sinning against Me. On account of this I did not allow you to touch her.” (Genesis 20:3-6)
This Genesis passage is customarily distorted and twisted by tumultuous teapot Calvinists to teach a partially-sovereign, semi-deistic, and semi-dualistic “god” (cf. Galatians 4:8). Because God said that He “withheld” (or restrained) Abimelech from unlawfully touching a woman, they conclude that saws, axes, and clubs must have some sort of “freedom” to move about when the “sovereign restraints” are loosened (or eventually, completely lifted).
It is true that God restrained (withheld) the sin of Abimelech — but HOW did God do this? By not TURNING the heart of Abimelech to sin (cf. Psalm 105:25; Proverbs 21:1). If (for example) God DOES restrain the initial mental motions of madness in an Abimelech, then know that God ACTIVELY CAUSED these initial mental motions (see Isaiah 10:5-15; Psalm 105:25; Proverbs 21:1). Also know that after ACTIVELY CAUSING these initial mental motions, God also may ACTIVELY RESTRAIN the initial inward sin of thought from reaching the point of the outward sin of action.
“But I have known your sitting down, and your going out, and your coming in, and your rage against Me. Because of your raging against Me, and because your arrogance has come up into My ears, even I will put My hook in your nose, and My bridle in your lips, and I will turn you back by the way which you came.” (2 Kings 19:27-28; Isaiah 10:5-15; cf. Romans 9:11-24)
James White said that “I submit to you that every single day God’s restraining hand is holding back the madness of men.” In 2 Kings 19:27-28 God said that He will hold back or “restrain” the rage of a certain man by putting His hook in the man’s nose, His bridle in his lips, and will TURN him back by the way which he came. How would Calvinists like-minded with James White explain the rage of this man against God? Would they say that God CAUSED the rage of this man in precisely same way He is said to SWING the axe in Isaiah 10? in the same way He is said to TURN the Egyptian heart to hate His people (Psalm 105:25)? in the same way He is said to TURN the heart of the king (Proverbs 21:1)? in the same way He is said to HARDEN Pharaoh as a grand demonstration of His wrath and power (Romans 9:10-22)?
Dr. White also said this:
“…. and since you elevated your heart…since you made yourselves so arrogant and boastful, now I am now going to bring destruction upon you because of the attitude of your heart — that’s the basis upon which God judges is the attitude of the heart because He knows that perfectly…I’m awful glad that God is a just Judge.”
Certainly God bases His judgment on “the attitude of the heart because He knows that perfectly.” God knows the attitude of sinful men’s hearts, not only because He is omniscient, but also because of His active eternal decree. God’s knowledge of rebellious man’s rage, boast, and arrogance is based on His sovereign decree from eternity to actively cause this raging and rebellious attitude in time. So, God ACTIVELY CAUSED this boastful and arrogant attitude of the Assyrian king (and his subjects) and then justly judges them for that which He had actively caused. You will then say to me, “Why does God find fault with the Assyrian king (and his subjects) since they could not resist His will?”
“For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, For this very thing I raised you up, so that I might display My power in you, and so that My name might be publicized in all the earth. So, then, to whom He desires, He shows mercy. And to whom He desires, He hardens. You will then say to me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will? Yes, rather, O man, who are you answering against God? Shall the thing formed say to the [One] forming [it], Why did You make me like this? Or does not the potter have authority over the clay, out of the one lump to make one vessel to honor, and one to dishonor? But if God, desiring to demonstrate His wrath, and to make His power known, endured in much long-suffering vessels of wrath having been fitted out for destruction, and that He make known the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy which He before prepared for glory, whom He also called, not only us, of Jews, but also out of nations.” (Romans 9:17-24)
The Scriptures blatantly contradict James White’s view (or definition) of “restraint” or “restrain.” To “restrain” according to White means that God sovereignly gives the sinner more sovereignty, even to the point of unGodding Himself insofar as His sovereign control is concerned. Apparently, James White thinks that “the very essence of hell itself is when” God communicates or transfers the lion’s share of His very Godhood to reprobate sinners. 
 A transfer or communication of the “lion’s share of His very Godhood to the reprobate sinner” implies a “much smaller share of Godhood” that would belong to the Calvinistic idol (cf. Galatians 4:8). In this particular scheme, the “much smaller share of Godhood” would belong to the Calvinistic idol’s supposed “perpetual sustaining of life and existence”, while the “lion’s share of His very Godhood” would belong to the allegedly “great I-AM-reprobate-sinners” who appear in “the very essence of hell itself” to be the ultimate metaphysical causes of their own actions. I surmise that James White was fed — and did in fact swallow — this blasphemous nonsense about God denying Himself as “the very essence of hell itself” from the speculative spoon of Jonathan Edwards.