This was an amalgamation of two lectureships, one WM, the other PM. In 1869 John Fernley founded a lectureship to be given at the WM Conference, particularly for the benefit of those to be ordained, but also to give opportunity for publication to young and scholarly, but hitherto unknown ministers (though the first, Dr. George Osborn in 1870, was already a connexional figure). It resulted in some important theological works by men destined for eminence, such as J. Scott Lidgett's The Spiritual Principles of the Atonement (1897). The last to be given was The Word of the Cross and Hinduism by Edgar W. Thompson.
The Hartley Lecture was endowed by Sir William P. Hartley in 1897, the first being delivered by Dr Joseph Ferguson. John Watson's on The Fatherhood of God (1898) was the first to be published. Among later lecturers were J. Odell on Evangelism (1903) and Joseph Ritson on The Romance of Primitive Methodism (1909). A.S. Peake was the only one to give two Hartley Lectures (1904 and 1919); he and Atkinson Lee were the only laymen to lecture. The last was given by Henry G. Meecham in 1932, on The Oldest Versions of the Bible.
The two lectureships were amalgamated after the 1932 Union and some subsequent lectures, such as R. Newton Flew's Jesus and His Church (1938) have made an original contribution to theology and have been widely studied. A fuller version of the lecture as delivered was published in book form by the Epworth Press, but with increasing losses later lecturers were left to make their own arrangements for publication. More recently the lecture has appeared, if at all, as a pamphlet or, since 1998 as an article in the Epworth Review. As a result of changes to the trust in 2007, the lecture need no longer be delivered at the time and place where the Conference is meeting, and in 2010 the amalgamated lecture was given for the first time by a layman, Dr. Clive Marsh. The trust was further amended in 2015 to enable the trustees to determine that additional lectures be provided.either by direct delivery to an audience or by recording and posting on a website, normally by a presbyter, deacon or lay member of the Methodist Church (but not necessarily chosen in the first instance by the trustees if the lecture is provided in association with another body).