It was the most exclusive club in the world. The list of members included the celebrated names of Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, Macy, and Goodyear.
The small island off the coast of Georgia was covered with lush vegetation, secluded beaches, and abundant wildlife. In 1886 Jekyll Island became the private resort of the richest families in the United States.
This was the playground where those who had it all came a few weeks out of the year to swim, hunt and relax in their “cottages.” Only, these cottages had 15-25 rooms including formal dining rooms, lavish parlors, 5-20 bedrooms, and servants’ quarters.
The Club House, opened in 1887, provided accommodations for 100 guests. The dining room featured fine cuisine and the best wines. An evening meal could be 10 courses and last three hours. The island offered many recreational facilities including a golf course, stables, tennis courts, and boating and hunting all for the exclusive use of its members. A gamekeeper was hired to keep the area well-stocked.
For over fifty years this private island was the paradise of many peoples’ dreams. The dream to have it all: the money, the prestige, the expensive clothing, the quality furniture, the mansions. It’s what some strive a lifetime to achieve. It’s what some sell their soul to possess. The history of Jekyll Island offers some lessons on what is really important in life.
Points to build on
It starts out simple. You notice the new car, latest iPhone, the chic dress. Having it would make all the difference in the world. You could be happy. It would impress your friends and make others envious.
Soon it’s all you think about. You’ve picked the exact color, the bucket seats, the perfect fit. You plan strategies on how to get what you want. The strategy becomes an obsession. It takes some anxiety and sweat but the new car, the right shoes, the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood, the newest iPhone is finally yours.
You experience pleasure—until the new styles appear, or the engine breaks down, or everybody else has the same thing. Now you want something more and the cycle begins all over again. The real problem isn’t in having things, it’s arriving at how much is enough.
Solomon, king of ancient Israel, had it all: houses, furniture, land, clothes, gold and women. His experiences led him to this conclusion:
“He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver;
Nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity.
When goods increase, They increase who eat them;
So what profit have the owners, Except to see them with their eyes?
The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, Whether he eats little or much;
But the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep.
There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun:
Riches kept for their owner to his hurt” (Ecclesiastes 5:10-13 Ecclesiastes 5:10-13 10 He that loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loves abundance with increase: this is also vanity.
11 When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?
12 The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.
13 There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.
American King James Version×).
Wealth isn’t evil. It’s a matter of priorities. A man asked Jesus to settle an inheritance squabble. Jesus refused. He went on to tell a parable of a rich man who spent his entire life creating more and more wealth. The rich man’s goal was to accumulate as much as he could and someday retire to enjoy life. Jesus told of how the man died and his wealth became the property of someone else. He ended the parable by stating, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:13-21 Luke 12:13-21 13 And one of the company said to him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
14 And he said to him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?
15 And he said to them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.
16 And he spoke a parable to them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
20 But God said to him, You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you: then whose shall those things be, which you have provided?
21 So is he that lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
American King James Version×).
Jesus’ point isn’t that owning land, running a profitable business or saving for the future is wrong. Solomon admonishes his son to follow the example of the ants who store food for the time when there is no food (Proverbs 6:6-11 Proverbs 6:6-11 6 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
7 Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
8 Provides her meat in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest.
9 How long will you sleep, O sluggard? when will you arise out of your sleep?
10 Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:
11 So shall your poverty come as one that travels, and your want as an armed man.
American King James Version×). Jesus says it is wrong to concentrate of storing treasure and ignoring God. He says to be “rich toward God.”
But what could someone who owns the universe possibly want from us? How about we share our dreams, our hopes, and our lives with Him and accept His dreams and hopes for us?
It never dawns on many people that the Creator has a desire for the well-being and success of His children. Enjoying the resources and wealth of His physical creation is part of His plan for humanity. He desires for us to work hard and reap the rewards of our labors. He also wants us to interact with Him as our Father while learning to share, experiencing contentment and showing gratitude.
Physical things can cause temporary happiness and excitement, but real contentment comes not from what you own, or status, but from who you are. Understanding and living God’s purpose in life is the only wealth we truly possess.
There are no millionaires living on Jekyll Island today. Their beautiful mansions are monuments to a by-gone era. Tourists take “cottage” tours and eat lunch in the clubhouse dining room where once only the wealthy dined.
During World War II the island was evacuated and after the war the younger generation had more exciting places to go. Within a few years the island and all of its estates were sold to the state of Georgia.
Most visitors hardly notice the two hand-carved stone statues of lions standing before the ruins of a once lavish house. The ruins are all that’s left of the grand cottage of Edwin Gould. One day, while hunting on the island, Mr. Gould’s son was killed in an accident. In his grief he left Jekyll Island and never returned and after years of disrepair the cottage was finally torn down.
What better illustration, than two stone lions standing guard over a ruined, ghostly estate, of Jesus’ warning, “Take heed, beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.”
Next time you find yourself consumed in the race to make money, or envious of people who seem to have it all, remember to take time to enjoy what God has given you. Take time to enjoy a family meal, appreciate nature, listen to fine music, read a book and remember your Creator. Take time to remember the island of the rich and the ruined house where the lions stand guard.