The usual technique for dealing with an abelian W*-algebra is to consider it, via the Gelfand theory, as the algebra of all continuous complex-valued functions on an extremally disconnected compact Hausdorff space with a separating family of normal linear functionals. An alternative approach, outlined in  and , is to develop the theory within the framework of Riesz spaces (linear vector lattices) where the order properties of the self-adjoint operators play an important and natural role. It has been known for a long time that the self-adjoint part of an abelian W*-algebra is a Dedekind complete Riesz space under the natural ordering of self-adjoint operators, but it is only relatively recently that a proof of this fact has been given that is independent of the Gelfand theory, and the interested reader may consult  or  for the details. This approach is essentially foreshadowed in  and provides a very satisfying introduction to the theory of commutative rings of operators. From this point of view, the spectral theorem for self-adjoint operators falls naturally into place as an easy consequence of the spectral theorem of H. Freudenthal. In this paper, the line of approach via Riesz spaces is developed further and several well known results are shown to follow as elementary consequences of the order structure of the algebra.