Perhaps the most significant, mostly positive review came from J. B. Rotherham. Russell and Rotherham shared key points of doctrine, and where they connected in doctrine Rotherham found The Plan of the Ages to be “a notable book – bold, broad, and breezy; very refreshing after the stereotyped dogmas and platitudes which pass current in the theological world.” The review was the lead article in the December 1886 issue of The Rainbow, filling nine and a third pages. Much of it presented Rotherham’s reservations. The book wasn’t safe for all, but it should be read:
For the ordinary, hesitating, uninstructed child in theology, who as yet knows not his right hand from his left, and who may crave for some one to do his thinking for him, and be rather too ready to be carried about by every wind of teaching, and too timidly willing to cast anchor in the confident conclusions of a stronger mind, – we cannot recommend this volume. Its faults are too serious – and its conclusions are too sharply cut – its scheme is too definitely mapped out, – to be a safe book; that is to say, for theological children. … In spite of its shortcomings, “The Plan of the Ages” is a valuable production, and is probably destined to furnish material assistance in shaking down old walls and building up new. We confess to a feeling about it which may be conventionally described as “naughty”; as if craving the immense gratification of putting doctors of divinity and infidel orators alike through a determined course of reading in this book Bible in hand.
Of his several objections the two that seem to draw the strongest attention is Russell’s belief that Revelation 20:5 was spurious. More clearly than anyone in this period, Rotherham refuted this belief. He also took exception to Russell’s treatment of Jesus’ status before God: “Mr. Russell’s manner of speaking of our Lord has caused us pain. He mostly speaks of Him as simply “Jesus” – a thing the Apostles, if we mistake not, seldom did after the resurrection … . While our author very distinctly owns the pre-incarnate spiritual nature of the Savior, he seems, over and over again to purposely avoid attributing to Him absolute Deity prior to his human birth; and so frequently affirms that “since his resurrection he is a perfect spiritual being of the highest or divine order” (p. 175 and elsewhere) as to force one to think that he means to exclude our Lord’s pre-incarnate existence as not equal to this.”
Despite Rotherham’s exceptions, he recommended the book, finally writing:
We have done our fault-finding. Only those who read dispassionately for themselves “The Plan of the Ages” will perhaps believe us when we assure them that enough in any case remains that is unimpeachable to render this volume such as is likely to repay abundantly any discreet man’s perusal. The Chapter on “The Permission of Evil” is alone more than worth the price of the while volume, and is the fullest discussion of this great mystery, and the nearest approximation to a probably correct solution of it, with which we are acquainted.