This is a reading report Miles J. Stanford’s The Complete Green Letters. This book is a collection of five of Stanford’s works all in one volume. The five books, The Green Letters, The Principle of Position, The Ground of Growth, The Reckoning That Counts and Abide Above were published between 1964 and 1971. The collection of the five was first published in 1975. The common theme of these works is Stanford’s belief that many Christians do not experience the “deeper life” they seek because they do not adapt the concept of “Not I, but Christ.” (Stanford, 1983, bc) Stanford’s concept of position-in-Christ is presented throughout the entire work.
This report will be a summary of the book including notes on each of the five works included in the collection. A critique of the book will be presented. Personal application of the Stanford’s ideas will be suggested and detailed. The last portion of this work will be a conclusion.
Principles of Spiritual Growth
The first part of Stanford’s work is based on book The Green Letters. This was his first book on the subject of spiritual development and Stanford intended that they be read in the order in which they were published. (Stanford, 1983, ix) This first work “lays the foundation for understanding what spiritual growth is.” (Stanford, 1983, ix) As the first and most foundational for all of Stanford’s work on spiritual development, this report will devote more time and detail to this first part than to the others.
The Green Letters is based on two principles. The first is that the life before Christ, the “self-life”, leads only to futility, failure and total defeat. (Stanford, 1983, x) The second is that our previous-self, prior to Christ, has been crucified with him and he is now our source of life, “He is one with us in life. Not I, but Christ.” (Stanford, 1983, x) Life is only fruitful if we live with Christ in us. Without Christ in us, we return to the self-life of futility.
Stanford details eighteen principles of spiritual growth that if understood and developed, lead the believer to spiritual growth. Each of these will now be listed and briefly defined. The principles are faith, time, acceptance, purpose, preparation, complete in Him, appropriation, identification, consecration, self, self-denial, The Cross, discipleship, process of discipleship, rest, help, cultivation and continuance.
Faith is the first and most fundamental of all the principles of spiritual growth. Its existence is necessary for all others to occur. Paul called on believers to first “examine yourselves, whether ye be in faith.” (Stanford, 1983, 3) True faith is based on “scriptural facts” not emotion, speculation or conjecture. (Stanford, 1983, 3) True faith avoids using impressions, probabilities or appearances but is based on the facts of the scripture.
Time is necessary for spiritual growth because God takes his time, developing us at his speed, not ours’. It may take our entire lifetime. We become fruitful over time, through our struggles. Spiritual development is a “gradual process.” (Stanford, 1983, 8) Acceptance is the next principle. Each believer must settle two questions, according to Stanford. First, does God accept me? And if so, on what basis does he accept me? We stand on that acceptance for the remainder of our earthy lives.
The understanding of Purpose is necessary for spiritual development, both the purpose of man as a race and our individual purpose. Man was created to fellowship with God. (Stanford, 1983, 14) We each also have an individual purpose in his plan. Preparation for God’s work in our lives comes after understanding our purpose and through the struggles of our lives. (Stanford, 1983, 20) For each of us “he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Stanford, 1983, 21) This preparation takes time and comes after faith, acceptance and purpose.
To be Complete in Him is to give him full control and depend on him for all things. It is to “simply look up and praise the Lord” in all things. (Stanford, 1983, 26) Appropriation is to see what we possess in Christ, then reach out and confidently use it for his purpose. (Stanford, 1983, 29). He has given us all we need already. Identification is the spiritual principle that not only did Christ die on the cross, but if we have accepted him, we also died there with him.
Consecration is often “badly misunderstood by so many believers.” (Stanford, 1983, 35) To consecrate ourselves, or surrender ourselves to God, is simply to present ourselves for his service. We are called to “present yourselves unto God” as a necessary step in our service to him. (Stanford, 1983, 39) Self is “one of the most important factors in Christian growth.” (Stanford, 1983, 39) We must explore ourselves and our nature in a process of self-revelation to properly surrender, or consecrate ourselves to his service. Self-denial is the next logical step which leads us to The Cross. “Understanding and appropriating the facts of the Cross proves to be one of the most difficult and trying of all phases for the growing believer.” (Stanford, 1983, 48) Understanding Calvary “is the secret of it all.” (Stanford 1983, 48)
Discipleship and The Process of Discipleship are next on Stanford’s list. Only after truly understanding the Cross can we move toward true discipleship. Believers who make it this far in Stanford’s process experience Rest, a form of peace. It is necessary for true spiritual development. “God cannot work whilst we are anxious.” (Stanford, 1983, 64) This leads to Help, which is finally realizing that we don’t need to ask God for help, just claim what he has already given. This leads to Cultivation and Continuance, the on-going development of a mature believer.
Stanford’s eighteen principles of spiritual growth are a plan for development that starts with fundamental faith and leads to fully developed faith, or continuance. “The Lord is faithful, who shall establish you.” (Stanford, 1983, 74)
Foundations of Spiritual Growth
This part of Stanford’s work is based on The Principle of Position. In this book, Stanford outlined ten foundations that are to be accepted literally by the believer as part of their continued journey of spiritual development from the first book, The Green Letters. He starts with the Principle of Position, the concept that our position in the Christian life is “perfect.” (Stanford, 1983, 77) We are to live as if our lives were “eternally established in the Father’s presence,” because that is precisely our position in his kingdom after salvation! (Stanford 1983, 77) We should take our position in his kingdom and “abide in him by resting on the fact.” (Stanford 1983, 81) Stanford outlines the remaining nine spiritual foundations from the perspective of position as well as condition. Each foundation is explored with the assurance that the position is already earned. What is left for the believer is to determine their condition within their position in each foundation.
Justification and Assurance are the next two foundational positions. We have not been made righteous by Christ, but pronouced righteous by him based on our conversion. We have the “blessed assurance of salvation” based “squarely on our position in the Lord Jesus.” (Stanford, 1983, 86) We have Reconciliation and Acceptance eternally based on our salvation, based on our “from the penalty of sin.” (Stanford, 1983, 89) God has given us “the ministry of reconciliation” and the assurance of our salvation based on that position. (Stanford, 1983, 91)
Through this process, we have Completeness and Security as well, as we are “complete in him” and “secure in Christ” through our salvation. (Stanford, 1983, 95-97) As believers, we are “eternally secure.” (Stanford, 1983, 99) This position also leads to our position as “set apart” for God’s work, the foundational position of Sanctification and Consecration. (Stanford, 1983, 100) Spiritual growth occurs through the understanding of all of these foundational steps. To insure its continuance, the believer need only to grasp Identification as a believer, which leads directly to Growth.
Stanford also details the spiritual foundations of Sin and Purged Conscience, Sins and Conscience, Sin and Conscience, Sin and Light and Sins and Confessions as the believer’s tools or mechanisms to combat sin in their lives while on the road to spiritual growth. While Christ has purged our original sin and gives us a way to confess and claim that same forgiveness for new sin, an understanding of the appropriate process is very much required for spiritual growth to occur and continue.
After writing of the principles and foundations of spiritual growth, Stanford moves next to exploring the believer’s relationship with the Cross and Christ.
The Ground of Growth
This section of Stanford’s work is named identically to the book on which it is based. It dives into the personal relationships between a Christian and both the Cross and with Christ. Unlike the previous two sections that dealt more with concepts and the application of biblical principles, this section offers insight into the one-on-one relationship a believer may develop with Christ through the understanding of their relationship to the cross. It presents specific truths that can be applied as the ground-for-growth of spiritual development.
Stanford starts with the believer’s relationship with the biblical Adam, The First Adam, then transitions to the relationship possible with The Last Adam, Jesus. He traces our link to these Adams starting with creation and ending with the ascension. He then moves to the Diametric Differentiation between the before-Christ old life and the after-Christ new life. The believer’s two “deadly enemies” are then explored, The World and Its Prince, Satan. (Stanford, 1983, 158) There is a very thoughtful description and warning of the “worldly Christian” Satan would like us all to become as well as practical insights into dealing with Satan’s most common approaches. (Stanford, 1983, 158-161)
Transplantation and Conformation are explored, the truths that God has moved our roots from old ground to new ground and desires that we apply his new truth to conform ourselves into his image. Stanford challenges the believer to live as if He Is Our All, That I May Know Him. This work by Stanford challenges the believer to completely “displace” the old life and allow the new life of Christ to “come into us” as the foundational ground for our spiritual growth. (Stanford, 1983, 180) Redemption or salvation is just the first step on the spiritual journey. If the journey is successful there will be “not an atom of the old man left” at the end of the process. (Stanford, 1983, 180)
The Realization of Spiritual Growth
This section is based on The Reckoning That Counts. Reckoning is the phrase used by Stanford as the how-to of spiritual development. Once the fundamental principles and truths are understand and accepted, reckoning is the process for implementing them into the life of the believer. There are Principles of Reckoning that are discovered in the patterns of learning and behaviors exhibited by all people. There are Three Steps in Reckoning, to know and reckon, to abide and rest and to depend and walk in the process. We grow in the Knowledge of Reckoning by using Spirit Applied Reckoning. Reckoning may be accomplished through Service as well as self-study. Detailed accounts of the process are given from Romans, Galatians, Philippians and Colossians. Rest and Results of Reckoning come from the process. Rest is used to describe the peace and “truth” that comes to the believer from the process. (Stanford, 1983, 233) Reckoning results in the continuity of belief throughout the life of the believer.
The concluding chapter of this section, Foundation of Reckoning, illustrates that the believer who is “not instructed concerning their position in the Lord Jesus” will remain weak and unsuccessful in their spiritual development. Stanford concludes this section with twelve “proofs” of a believer’s position in Christ, “proofs that can you never be lost” once truly saved. (Stanford, 1983, 242-243) In the past two sections Stanford has given us a ground work for spiritual development and a how-to guide. The last section of this book challenges the reader to look at it all from a different perspective.
A Guide to Spiritual Growth
This section is based Abide Above, the last of Stanford’s books included in The Complete Green Letters. Here Stanford goes a very different direction than the previous four works. Although still focusing on the understanding of our position in Christ, he challenges us to look at our eyes from Christ’s perspective. First he examines failure and how the believer must not only recognize and accept their eventual failure in life without Christ but they must learn to utilize that failure. He again encourages us to Think Position in how we think of ourselves as in-Christ. Then he challenges us to Keep Looking Down!
We should look at our lives from God’s perspective as much as possible, as if from Heaven. The different human motives of love, hate, faith, death and life are examined, looked at as if from above. In Law Versus Life Stanford uses the writings of Pink, Bonar, Ryle, Finney, Kelly and Scofield to examine our position in Christ from the position of grace, not from the perspective of the law. (Stanford 1983, 262-265)
Stanford’s belief in the Keswick Convention is outlined in the chapters on Time and Emphasis, examining how both can be used for spiritual development. He then begins to conclude this work with chapters on The Spirit, Psychic Healing, Tongues, Calvinism and Arminianism. Stanford gives his clear point of view on healing and tongues in the modern world, calling them both “primarily in the realm of the nervous system.” (Stanford, 1983, 300) His summary of Calvinism and Arminianism provide a reference guide to two of the most accepted Christian belief systems.
This last work deals with many different subjects. All are approached from the same perspective as the previous works, the believer’s position in Christ. This last work seeks to summarize several unrelated topics. Now that a summary of the five sections of the book have been presented, a critique of the work will be next.
Stanford’s work is comprehensive and detailed. That is one of its biggest strengths and at the same time a weakness. Its comprehensive and detailed presentation deals with many subjects in a clear and applicable manner. At the same time, transitions between each of the five works are not always clear. The first two works could have been combined into one or more clearly differentiated. The third and fourth do stand alone in their content. The last section could have been blended into either of the first two. No evidence was found that these five books were originally intended to become one volume. More work on transitions between the five sections could have made the work more effective.
Stanford’s connection to and endorsement of the Keswick Convention is not well explained. It is referenced directly in the last work but it causes the reader to question the impact of this organization on the entire work. No substantial detail or explanation of this organization is included outside of a brief reference in the last section. Stanford is not afraid of detail in his writing. More detail here would have made the work more convincing or better understood.
Overall an extremely well written and detailed work on spiritual development. Any reader could pick any part of the work and find a way to grow spiritually. Its many perspectives and subjects make it interesting and unconventional.
My personal application of this work has already begun. As part of a current spiritual growth plan, I have been praying and meditating over scripture. I have begun using Stanford’s eighteen principles as the guide for that activity. I have always had a personal fascination with the Lord’s Prayer and have been praying over and meditating on a different section of it every day. I have added Stanford’s principles to that process every other day. They provide a framework I find interesting and comforting all at the same time. It will take quite a while to accomplish this task over all of the principles. I would next move to his ground work concepts from The Ground of Growth.
I find that currently I have been exposed to many ideas and approaches to spiritual growth. Although I find the overall work of Stanford a bit disconnected, I do find these two sections of his work provide simple clarity to what sometimes seems an overwhelming task: personal spiritual development. Perhaps in time I will more clearly see the connection between the five works he intended.
Overall The Complete Green Letters is just that, very complete. It is a one stop guide to personal spiritual development that any serious reader could use to develop a growth plan. Its many directions and concepts make it interesting and thought provoking reading. It is a work any believer would do well to examine. This is not a work easily read or understood quickly as a whole. There is a significant reward of personal development for the reader willing to invest time in this work.
Stanford, Miles J., The Complete Green Letters, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Corporation, 1983.