The search for continuity in the Society of Friends is a fascinating as well as frustrating task. In no other denomination can one generation's emphases be so completely transformed by the next, while both continue to define themselves as remaining faithful to the essence of the faith and in an unbroken tradition of continuing revelation. None of the theological issues confronting Friends in the early nineteenth century was new, and most had been debated at length during the formative years before 1690 when the acceptable perimeters of belief were delineated. Yet disagreement came on fundamentals: what was the Inward Light and how was it connected with Jesus of Nazareth, what was the relationship of intellect and reason to the operation of the Inward Light, what authority did Scripture possess and what power did it convey, how much uniformity in belief was to be required, and who guaranteed the transmission of the authentic faith? Not ethics or ritual but the relation of belief to contrasting experiences of either radical inner obedience or self-surrender to the atonement came increasingly to be seen as decisive and eventually became divisive.
The first indication of the theological controversies that would convulse Quakerism in the nineteenth century came in Ireland. Abraham Shackleton, a schoolmaster and elder in Ballitore, became disturbed at what he saw as Friends' overemphasis upon legalistic Discipline, disownment, Advices, and visiting committees. His first sign of open disagreement came in 1797 when, as a clerk of the Carlow Monthly Meeting of Ministers and Elders, he refused to read the revised Queries because they applied the word Holy to the Bible. Shackleton had doubts whether God had commanded the wars in the Old Testament. Early Friends, he claimed, had emphasized the primacy of the experience of the Light of God and had used Scriptures in a secondary role. In 1799 Shackleton was removed as an Elder, and he was disowned in 1801. He was suspected also of sympathy with the French Revolution. Several influential Irish Friends shared