Our world is embroiled in a war against an invisible enemy known as COVID-19. And every war needs a good PR department. Public relations on the home front affect the results on the battlefront and can spell the difference between victory and defeat. That’s why England’s government established the Ministry of Information (MOI) on September 4, 1939, a scant day after Britain’s declaration of war on Germany. Its mission was to generate materials to sustain the nation’s morale during World War II. Since bombings and gas attacks were likely, deaths inevitable, and invasion possible, the MOI resolved to bolster the quintessential British “stiff upper lip” by disseminating information helpful to the war effort.
The British Origins of “Keep Calm and Carry On”
One of the Ministry’s first projects was a series of three posters. Each design was similar in style and appearance to the other two, with all of them printed on cardboard sheets featuring solid-color backgrounds. The crown of King George VI adorned the top of each poster, followed by a forthright slogan in simple font.
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The first sign bore this motto: YOUR COURAGE YOUR CHEERFULNESS YOUR RESOLUTION WILL BRING US VICTORY. Nearly 1 million of these signs—white letters on a blue background—were posted across the land.
The second sign featured a green background with offsetting white letters proclaiming: FREEDOM IS IN PERIL DEFEND IT WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT. About half a million of these were printed and tacked up in bus stops, train stations, shop windows, bulletin boards, and power poles across the British Isles.
The MOI then designed a third poster and printed millions of them, but these were warehoused and intended for distribution only if worse came to worst and German boots landed on English soil. In other words, this poster was to be used only in the event of invasion. Written by an unknown MOI worker, it featured a stark white font against a red background and bore these simple words beneath the crown of the King of England: KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON.
England was spared invasion, of course; and the unused posters were turned to pulp after the war. The destruction was so complete that the only known copies of the sign were stored in the British archives. Or so it was thought. But a few years ago, Stuart Manley bought a box of old materials at an auction. Stuart and his wife Mary own a popular bookstore in the northeast of England. As the Manleys sorted through his purchase, they pulled out a striking cardboard poster with the words: KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. They didn’t realize its significance at first, but Mary liked it so much she framed and hung it behind the cash register. Customers, strangely moved by the simple words, began asking for copies, so the Manleys had replicas made. The slogan began appearing on mugs, T-shirts, towels, and many other accessories.
As the motto spread across England, the story behind the poster came out and the words KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON became a sensation. A simple sentence, crafted but unused by one generation, seems almost prophetically intended for a new generation facing a pandemic, changing values, economic crises, and overstressed nerves. The BBC has speculated that this iconic sign—KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON—might be the greatest motivational poster in history, for its stoic message resonates with people of every age.
The Biblical Origins of “Keep Calm and Carry On”
This phrase reflects Scriptural truth. England wasn’t the first nation to face the threat of invasion; invasion was a threat in biblical times too. When King Ahaz and the nation of Judah were facing invasion by two enemies, the Lord gave this message through the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 7:4, NIV
Even earlier, Moses had told the Israelites by the Red Sea:
Exodus 14:13-14, NLT
This is a message for us: “Be careful… keep calm… don’t lose heart… stand still… the Lord will fight for you.” Do those words reverberate in your heart right now? The devil may try to invade our turf, we may have battles on multiple fronts, we may live in turbulent times; but we can fix our thoughts on Jesus, claim His perfect peace, and persevere. Trust the Lord and do your duty. Keep calm and don’t be afraid. Carry on and rely on God to fight for you.
Remaining Calm Is Possible Because of God’s Promises
The word “calm” was originally a weather word. It comes from a Latin term meaning “hot.” It was used to describe the stillness of a dry and windless day. It’s used that way in the Bible too. Psalm 107:27-29 refers to a group of sailors who turn to God in a storm:
During a terrible squall in the Book of Jonah, the runaway prophet told the sailors, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm.”
In Mark 4, when Jesus rebuked the waves and wind during a storm on the sea, the Bible says: “The wind ceased and there was a great calm.”
According to Webster, the word “calm” means “without rough motion; not windy or stormy; free from disturbance; tranquil; serene.” The Bible uses the word “calm” to describe how the Lord wants to settle the weather patterns of our minds. Kenneth Wuest was a renowned New Testament scholar at Moody Bible Institute who provided an expanded translation of the New Testament. Here’s his rendering of 1 Peter 1:13: “Be calm and collected in spirit and set your hope perfectly, wholly, and unchangeably, without doubt and despondency upon the grace that is being brought to you….”
King David did that in Psalm 131, as he wrote: “Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul.”
King Solomon similarly wrote in Proverbs 17:27, “A man of understanding is of a calm spirit.”
We can live with calmness and confidence because of the promise of Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”
We can keep calm and be compassionate. We can keep calm and be constructive. We can keep calm and stay challenged. We can stay calm and committed and convinced. We’re living in in chaotic times but, to quote from Isaiah again, “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). As we await the Lord’s return, the atmospherics of your heart and mine should be calm, for Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace” (John 16:33).
The Cross of Christ Gives Us the Confidence to Carry On
When the British edition of the television program Antiques Roadshow was filming an episode at St. Andrews University a few years ago, a woman from the town of Fife approached the hosts with a bundle of rolled-up posters—fifteen of them, all alike, held together by a rubber band. She said her father, who had been a member of the Royal Observer Corps, had given them to her years before. As the posters were unrolled, five words appeared in white font against a red background: KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. They were original copies of the same poster the Manleys had uncovered. This proved to be a sensational find, for the posters were authenticated from the 1940s and had indeed been spared from the pulp mill. The woman later told a newspaper, “The slogan is quite appropriate for my own personal circumstances because I recently lost my job and am desperately looking for another one.”1
Of course, she’s not as bad off as she thought; her posters are worth a small fortune. The words on that sign are quite appropriate to our personal circumstances too and worth so very much. We can frame and hang them on the walls of our hearts. Behind them is a Scriptural truth: Even in chaotic times we can live with confidence. Beneath the crown of the King of kings, against the red backdrop of His cleansing blood, we can always…
This article is adapted from the May 2013 issue of Turning Points Magazine and Devotional, a ministry of Turning Point with Dr. David Jeremiah. Request a complimentary trial subscription today.
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For more information about facing uncertain times in the face of COVID-19, refer to these additional articles by Dr. David Jeremiah:
1Chris Slack,“Keep Calm and Carry On… to the Bank: Original Wartime Poster Shows Up On Antiques Roadshow,” in the Daily Mail, February 24, 2012.
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