Who: Jacob Chamberlain was the first Westerner to live in Madanapalle, India, in the state of Tamil Nadu. He translated the Bible and study helps into Telugu; preached in the vernacular language; treated thousands of medical ailments; and was a great force for bringing support to the overseas missions of the Reformed Church in America. His ministry in India stretched over thirty-seven years.
Overview: The Cobra’s Den is a compilation of writings about various aspects of missionary life. It is a fast read with short chapters and mostly simple language. Most of the chapters, like “Those Torn-Up Gospels,” pertain directly to pioneer missions among the unreached. Others, like “How I Keep My Study Cool,” deal more with the eccentricities of Chamberlain’s life in India. The overall thrust of the book shows that India was in a time a great religious transformation, in which the old Hinduism, with its superstitions and pilgrimages, was largely being cast off.
Meat: Chamberlain, along with his many native teachers and preachers, preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ in over a thousand villages in southern India, mostly in Tamil Nadu. He faced many dangers from men and beasts, and also persisted in literary work for decades. His stories are exemplary and encouraging.
This book has plenty of interesting insights about missionary life, pioneer preaching, and a lot to say about missionary finances from the perspective of someone living in an undeveloped economy.
Bones: Chamberlain can be somewhat sensational in his depictions. (The title itself, of course, is meant to draw attention!) The financial appeals are a little strange to read, since they are directed at a 19th-century audience. Nonetheless, his life of pioneer work was nothing to sneeze at.
“At two o’clock we were to go to the weekly bazaar to preach to the people who came together from fifty villages to buy and sell. Before that hour, however, I was on my bed with a severe pull of my arch enemy, the jungle fever, and could not rise. My assistants went without me. About sunset they returned, finding me on my cot, with the fever still burning, and said, “O sir, we have had such an interesting time. We had a succession of large and interested audiences, and at the close two men came up and asked earnestly, ‘Are you the Doctor Padre’s people? And Is he here? He promised to come and see us, but has never come. We want him to come, for we are all of us ready to give up our idols and join his religion.” (“The Surgeon’s Knife Dethrones a Hindu Idol.”)
Related: The author of The Cobra’s Den also wrote In the Tiger Jungle, a similar book of missionary stories.